As industrial disputes continue to sweep across the UK, the new head of the TUC has called for an urgent meeting with the prime minister to try to break the deadlock.
In a hard-hitting letter to Rishi Sunak, TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said public services were in crisis after years of “underfunding and understaffing” – and he called for a complete change in government direction.
He is critical of ministers’ refusal to negotiate over pay, and called for “open and constructive” discussions to begin.
Mr Nowak’s plea comes as rail workers continue a 48-hour strike, with more stoppages planned this month in the transport industry and civil service.
Thousands of nurses across the country staged the biggest-ever strike in the history of the NHS, walking out around just before Christmas – and more are on the cards.
Mr Nowak wrote: “Every month experienced employees are quitting, with one in three public service staff now taking steps to leave their professions or actively considering it.
“This is simply unsustainable. But we cannot fix the staffing crisis in our schools, hospitals and elsewhere if we do not fix the underlying causes.
“That means talking in an open and constructive way about improving public sector pay. But so far your ministers have refused to negotiate directly about pay with unions.”
Image: TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak Explainer: New year, new wave of strikes – Here’s who is taking action, when and why
Mr Nowak said unions worked closely with Mr Sunak during the pandemic to deliver the furlough scheme and protect millions of jobs, adding: “That’s the kind of mature approach we need now.
“Unions have already made clear their willingness to sit down with the government and talk about boosting pay. But while your ministers continue to refuse point-blank to discuss improving wages, there can be no resolution.
“We want to find a resolution to the current disputes, so our public service staff can get on with doing the jobs they love. And so our public services can start to improve for everyone who relies on them.”
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People have returned to work – but no-one is getting anywhere fast during the rail strikes Read more: Network Rail says it is ‘on the right path’ towards securing deal to stop walkouts
Around half of Britain’s railway lines are closed and only a fifth of services are running as tens of thousands of workers at Network Rail and train operators walk out on the second day of the strike, with another to begin on Friday.
Today, the DVSA driving examiners’ strike starts in London, the South East, South Wales and the South West, while traffic officer service workers at National Highways will continue their walkout.
London bus workers at Abellio will also begin a two-day strike – the first in a series of action planned by the group throughout January.
Ambulance staff are set to walk out again on 11 and 23 January following action before Christmas, while nursing staff will begin again on 18 and 19 January.
Members of the EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, and two other unions are also due to walkout on 10 and 11 January, as well as on 16 further days spreading into February.