A leading union that represents thousands of National Health Service workers in the U.K. announced Friday that its members voted to reject the right-wing Tory government’s latest pay offer, setting the stage for large-scale strikes to resume next week.
“Unite was clear from the start it was very unlikely this offer would be accepted,” Sharon Graham, the union’s general secretary, said in a statement. “It is quite frankly a joke that NHS workers are being forced to fight for a decent pay rise after years of pay freezes and all their sacrifices during the pandemic.”
“The government should be delivering generous rewards for that instead of a parade of insults, bullying, and lies about our industrial action. Unite will be backing our NHS members 100%,” Graham added. “Unite’s members will now return to the picket line to continue their fight.”
Unite said the latest pay proposal by the U.K. government, led by Tory Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, was inadequate in the face of persistently high inflation, which has led to real pay cuts for many healthcare workers who have been striking on and off for months.
The government offered a 5% pay increase for this year and 2024, along with a lump-sum payment for last year. Of all the Unite members who voted on the government’s proposal, 52% opposed it, the union said.
“It is increasingly clear that there is money to fund a fair pay rise, particularly from properly taxing the huge increases in profits made from the cost of living crisis by corporate profiteers,” said Onay Kasab, Unite’s national lead officer. “The government is choosing to let the NHS collapse. It must make the right decision, return to negotiations, and put forward a better deal.”
While the members of some unions have voted to accept the government’s offer, major labor organizations — including the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and now Unite — have rejected the proposal and vocally denounced it.
According to a recent analysis by the Trades Union Congress, U.K. bankers have seen their pay rise more than three times faster than that of nurses since the 2008 financial crisis.
“What has been offered to date is simply not enough,” Pat Cullen, RCN’s general secretary and chief executive, wrote in a letter to U.K. health secretary Steve Barclay earlier this month. “The government needs to increase what has already been offered and we will be highly critical of any move to reduce it.”
“Until there is a significantly improved offer, we are forced back to the picket line,” Cullen continued. “Meetings alone are not sufficient to prevent strike action and I will require an improved offer as soon as possible. In February, you opened negotiations directly with me and I urge you to do the same now.”
Instead of meeting the demands of RCN — which has called for a pay raise of 5% above inflation — and other unions, Sunak’s government has repeatedly attacked the labor organizations and supported proposals to crack down on worker strikes.
On Thursday, a U.K. judge sided with the government and ordered RCN to cut its upcoming strike action short by a day, arguing the original strike plans would have fallen outside of the limits of the union’s strike mandate. The strike was supposed to run from Sunday through Tuesday evening, but it will now end on Monday.
“It is the darkest day of this dispute so far — the government taking its own nurses through the courts in bitterness at their simple expectation of a better pay deal,” Cullen said Thursday. “Nursing staff will be angered but not crushed by today’s interim order. It may even make them more determined to vote in next month’s reballot for a further six months of strike action.”
“The government has won this legal battle,” Cullen added. “But they have lost the support of nursing staff and the public. The most trusted profession has been taken through the courts, by the least trusted people.”
Not everyone can pay for the news. But if you can, we need your support.
Truthout is widely read among people with lower incomes and among young people who are mired in debt. Our site is read at public libraries, among people without internet access of their own. People print out our articles and send them to family members in prison — we receive letters from behind bars regularly thanking us for our coverage. Our stories are emailed and shared around communities, sparking grassroots mobilization.
We’re committed to keeping all Truthout articles free and available to the public. But in order to do that, we need those who can afford to contribute to our work to do so.
We’ll never require you to give, but we can ask you from the bottom of our hearts: Will you donate what you can, so we can continue providing journalism in the service of justice and truth?