Nurses have told Rishi Sunak they will call off their wave of strikes if he agrees to meet them to talk about pay. The proposal by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) came after firefighters were offered a seven percent backdated rise, with more this year.
But Downing Street again ruled out any retrospective salary increase and stressed nurses had previously been earmarked for extra pay.
RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said on Thursday: “The fire the Prime Minister needs to put out is the one at the heart of the NHS.
“A crisis is sweeping through nursing on his watch.
“He should come to the table and negotiate with nurses.
“Instead, he continues to fan the flames of the dispute by saying a fair pay rise for nursing is unaffordable. Nurses in Wales and Scotland have cancelled their strikes in favour of negotiations with ministers. We would do the same in England.
“I wrote to him last week and I still do not have a response.
“I say to him, come to the table and we will halt the planning for a further escalation in strike action. You have the power to stop this and I would urge you to take it.”
The RCN wants a rise five percent above inflation but has said it will meet Mr Sunak halfway to find a resolution.
A Whitehall insider admitted: “We know we cannot win in the battle for public support.
“But there is no money – borrowing to pay for a rise would be inflationary and if nurses were given more, what would it mean for other sectors?”
Firefighters on Thursday called off a series of planned strikes while they consider the latest pay offer – seven percent backdated to July 2022 and another five percent from this July.
The deal was offered by employers – effectively regional fire authorities – rather than through independent pay bodies that make recommendations on other sectors’ salaries.
Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said he would put the new offer to a ballot of his members. The FBU said it would have an
“honest and sober” discussion of the offer, but soaring inflation meant it still amounted to a real-term pay cut.
Mr Wrack said: “This offer is testament to the power of collective action through the Fire Brigades Union. Last year we were offered an insulting two percent. The employers have now revised their position.
“We have achieved this increase because of the massive vote in favour of strike action by firefighters and control staff across the country, which made clear the strength of feeling about cuts to their wages.” Meanwhile, about 15,000 Unison members representing ambulance staff in five areas in England will stage a fresh strike today over pay and staffing.
They have warned of more action in the coming weeks unless the deadlock is broken.
Sara Gorton, of the union, said the Government was now “sitting it out” and waiting for the next pay round, rather than trying to negotiate a deal to resolve the current dispute.
Rachel Harrison, of the GMB union, said: “Firefighters have been made an offer and suspended their strikes, but the Government still won’t talk pay with ambulance workers.
“Ambulance workers in England are feeling like second-class citizens as the Welsh and Scottish governments make offers on pay.
“Now it looks like they are being treated like second-class emergency workers too.”
She added: “It’s clear that the pay review body doesn’t work and is being used as a mask to hide behind, preventing a proper pay negotiation.
“Ministers need to pull their finger out and talk pay now.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the Government was “considering” ideas and wanted more discussions to take place. He said: “We still believe that focusing on this year’s pay is right and we still believe firmly that the independent Pay Review body is best placed to make a judgment.
“At a time when no public sector worker received a pay rise, the Government singled out nurses as the exception because we felt rightly that they deserved a pay rise.”
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he could “see circumstances playing out” where he would not follow the pay review body’s advice.
He said: “In this case, there are other factors in play, not least, it’s been a long time since the Pay Review body process made a recommendation.
“And inflation has just ballooned since in the most extraordinary way.”