A double-digit pay increase must be offered to striking NHS workers, the union leader has said, accusing the government of not being a fair negotiating partner.
Thousands of members of Unison, Unite and GMB unions will march across England and Wales on Monday as part of the ongoing NHS industrial action.
Up to 15,000 Unison Ambulance staff are on strike for the third time in five weeks and will be joined by 5,000 of their NHS colleagues at two Liverpool hospitals.
The government has held talks with trade unions, but Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the core of the problem – wages – had not been addressed.
She indicated that union members would consider a 10% pay rise, insisting that Labor show “real leadership” by revealing herself and stating that this is what she would offer if it were the party in power.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to the hospital last week, health secretary Steve Barclay appeared to rule out a 10 percent pay rise for nurses, saying it was “not cost effective.”
Ms Graham accused the government of incompetence in negotiations or of wanting to privatize the NHS.
She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “These are not pay talks and that’s the problem. The big problem here is the issue of remuneration. There is a problem where ambulance staff, nurses, NHS staff say we need a pay rise.
“The public supports this increase, as you can see from the polls, and we have an employer, in this case the government, who will talk about everything but wages.”
Ms Graham described Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as “missing in action” and said she believed the government was either at an “unrealistic” level of incompetence in negotiating or was “looking at this as a moment where they can privatize the NHS” .
She added: “Something unusual is going on here that they won’t come to the table. There are choices that can be made, which means we can pay for it.
“No problem paying, we are the fifth richest country in the world. Something’s going on here. Otherwise, they are at a level of incompetence unknown because it is unrealistic.
In what appeared to be a sign of bad relations between government and trade unions, Ms Graham accused ministers of “lying” and not being “an honest partner on the other side of the table”.
She said: “Right now I’m negotiating with someone who doesn’t want a solution, and that’s the real problem.”
Ms Graham said the government needed to offer a double-digit pay rise instead of “dancing around their purses”.
She told the show: “I think it’s really clear that we’re talking about double-digit pay growth. That’s what we’re talking about.
“RCN has already said it will meet them halfway. I don’t know how many more clues they want to take on this?
“So that’s double-digit wage growth. If they walked into the room and offered a double-digit pay raise, we would give it back to our members and our members would make the decision.
Ahead of Monday’s strikes, NHS chief medical officer Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “As with other ambulance strikes, the message to patients remains that it is essential to come forward and seek emergency care when needed.
“This includes calling 999 for life-threatening emergencies as well as using 111 online for other health needs where you will receive clinical advice on the best next steps.
“People should also continue to use local services such as pharmacies and GP surgeries as usual, which are not affected by the strike.”
On February 6, there is likely to be the biggest strike action the NHS has ever experienced, with thousands of nurses and ambulance workers due to stage strikes if no deal is reached by then.