Strikes in the UK will continue after government talks with trade unions fail

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – More strikes by workers demanding higher wages await in Britain after meetings of ministers and unions on Monday failed to end a wave of shutdowns across sectors from healthcare to transport.

More than 10,000 ambulance workers will leave as planned on Wednesday, the GMB union said in a statement, after talks with health minister Steve Barclay failed to produce a breakthrough.

“There was some commitment to pay – but not a concrete offer that could help resolve this dispute and make significant progress,” said GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison.

With wage increases failing to keep pace with double-digit inflation now at its highest in about 40 years, nurses, ambulance staff and railroad workers are among those who staged strikes, with teachers also being voted to take action.

The teachers’ trade unions, which will announce the results of the strike votes this week, met with the minister of education, the minister of health also talked with unions representing nurses. The Minister of Transport was to meet with the railway unions.

The RCN, representing nurses, called the meeting with Barclay “bitterly disappointing”. It said there was still a long way to go if ministers wanted to avoid nurses’ strikes scheduled for January 18 and 19.

Unite and Unison, both representing health professionals, also condemned the government’s approach. Unite’s Onay Kasab said the government had made it clear it wanted to discuss efficiency savings in exchange for further pay.

“We’re talking about people who work much longer than their contracted hours anyway just to get the job done,” he told reporters. “Today is an affront to our members.”

Unions have said they will call off strikes over the next few weeks only if offers are made to resolve disputes over this year’s pay deal, while the government wants to focus on wage increases in next fiscal year.

The government argued that inflation-adjusted wage increases would only drive prices up further and drive interest rates and mortgage payments further up.

During a visit to the health center on Monday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told reporters that the government was happy to discuss wage demands that were “anchored by what is reasonable, what is responsible, what is available to the country.”

When asked about media reports that the government was considering making a one-time payment to nurses to help with living expenses, Sunak declined to comment on the details.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Sarah Young, additional reporting by Farouq Suleiman; editing by Toby Chopra)

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