UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is under increasing pressure to improve the pay offer to nurses as strikes take place across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, for the first time in the Royal College of Nursing’s 106-year-old history.
Sunak has been urged to compromise and increase the pay rise on offer by a senior Tory MP, but the government insists that the nurses’ union demands can’t be met. As the strikes continue, the former head of the independent pay review body has called on Sunak to reconsider the offer currently on the table.
Labour leader Keir Starmer has previously called the strikes a ”badge of shame” and accused the PM of putting political considerations above patient safety.
Sunak is trying to hold firm on the issue, as accepting the demands of one sector could set a precedent for other industries, including teachers, rail workers, and driving examiners, who are also considering industrial action.
Maria Caulfield, a health minister who also works as a nurse, said that the RCN’s request for a 19% pay rise was unaffordable.
She argued that for every 1% extra offered, it would cost the public £700m, making the total government cost for meeting the demand in the region of £13billion – which would need to be funded by borrowing, tax rises, or cuts to budgets in other areas.
They believe it is a matter for the independent pay review body, which made the current pay rise recommendation.
Nurses’ union leader, Pat Cullen, accused health secretary Steve Barclay of not only refusing to negotiate but using “bullyboy tactics’’ and not taking the issue seriously; due to nursing being a 90% female profession.
The leaders of the RCN previously suggested that if a deal similar to the one offered in Scotland, which ranges from 5% to 11% depending on staff grades, was presented, it could potentially lead to progress.
It seems like the issue has divided the Conservative party, with the former party chairman, Jake Berry, calling on the government to compromise.
He said that while the RCN’s demand for a 19% pay rise was not realistic, the government and the union needed to find a way to reach an agreement quickly.
Berry’s comments have been supported by other Tory MPs, who have called on Sunak to increase the pay offer to nurses in order to avoid further disruption.
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Words: Andrea Rezman | Subbing: Anna Kamocsai