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UK PM Sunak seeks ‘constructive’ talks with unions amid latest anti-strike laws

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LONDON, Jan. 6: UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks to the media as he visits Harris Academy in Battersea.

Henry Nicholls – WPA Pool/Getty Images

LONDON — U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is preparing to satisfy union leaders this week for what he hopes will probably be “constructive” talks as he seeks to halt nationwide industrial motion, whilst his government prepares controversial anti-strike laws.

Tens of 1000’s of staff have walked out across industries in recent months to demand higher working conditions and pay raises in step with inflation, which remains to be running at double digits within the U.K.

U.K. inflation slowed to 10.7% annually in November from a 41-year high of 11.1% in October, and the country’s independent Office for Budget Responsibility projects that British households are set to experience their sharpest fall in living standards on record.

Sunak told reporters during a visit to a London school on Friday that he’s looking for a “grown up, honest conversation with union leaders about what’s responsible, what is cheap and what’s reasonably priced for our country in terms of pay,” in accordance with Reuters.

His comments got here only a day after his government announced latest anti-strike laws in a bid to “implement minimum service levels” across key public services, including the National Health Service, schools, rail networks, nuclear commissioning and the fireplace service.

The laws, which Sunak’s government plans to introduce in Parliament inside the following few weeks, would allow bosses to sue unions for disruption and sack employees who participated in industrial motion.

The total details of the plan could also be laid out as soon as Thursday, in accordance with The Times newspaper, however the initial announcement was met with outrage by union leaders.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), which has been undertaking the primary strike motion in its 106-year history in recent weeks, called the move “undemocratic,” while the final secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said your entire trade union movement would “fight this pernicious attack on staff by all means available.”

Over the weekend, Sunak softened his tone further on the nurses’ strikes, telling the BBC that he’s open to talks over a latest pay deal that’s “responsible” and “reasonably priced,” with further walkouts in NHS workplaces across England slated for Jan. 18 and 19.

On the identical BBC show, RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen called Sunak’s shift a “chink of optimism” and urged the prime minister to satisfy her “halfway.”

Talks between the federal government and union leaders are scheduled for Monday, but Unite, considered one of the country’s largest unions which also represents NHS members including ambulance staff, accused Sunak of “misleading the British public” over pay negotiations.

Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham, in an announcement Sunday, reiterated that no progress on the upcoming (2023/4) NHS pay review may very well be made while the present 2022 NHS pay claim stays unresolved.

“I actually have repeatedly called for the prime minister to come back to the table on this. All the final secretaries representing NHS staff stand able to negotiate with him at any time,” Graham said.

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“But this meeting on Monday has been misrepresented on almost every level. It isn’t a negotiation, it isn’t on current NHS pay and it isn’t with the prime minister.”

Graham added that unless Sunak “accepts the necessity to make real progress on the present pay claim, there’ll still be strikes across the NHS this winter.”

A complete of two,600 Unite ambulance staff are set to strike on Jan. 23 with further motion in Wales on Jan. 19.

The NHS is facing an unprecedented crisis, with hospitals full, patients lying in corridors and ambulances queueing outside emergency departments unable to dump patients or reply to latest calls. Health trusts and ambulance services across the country have declared “critical incidents” in recent weeks as services are overrun.

Sunak held an emergency meeting with health leaders over the weekend and told them that “daring and radical” motion can be needed to guide the NHS through the crisis.

National rail networks have also been heavily disrupted by strikes over the past 4 weeks, with the most recent 48-hour walkout by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Employees union leading to only around one in five trains across Great Britain running on Saturday.

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