Ambulance union says ‘significant’ pay offer would avert tomorrow’s strike

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An ambulance union has said that unless a “significant” offer is made by the Government today,  strike action will still go ahead on Wednesday.

Rachel Harrison, national secretary for the GMB union, told BBC Breakfast that her meeting with health secretary Steve Barclay “certainly went better than previous meetings”.

“Yesterday was a real shift, because there was that willingness from the Secretary of State and from his team to listen to us, to talk to us about pay for next year specifically, but unfortunately the meeting wasn’t progressive enough for us to be able to suspend the strike action tomorrow because no offer has yet still been made,” she added.

Ms Harrison said: “We remain hopeful – GMB members working across the ambulance service in the NHS do not want to take strike action. GMB called off our second day of action on December 28 in recognition of the amazing public support that we’ve had and to give the Government time to come to the table and talk to us about pay.”

“The sad reality is that they left that until this week to discuss and now it is too late because unless an offer is made today that is significant enough for us to consult our delegates and our national committee members on, that strike will still go ahead. The fact that they’re in the room and attempting to talk to us about pay is progress, but it’s just not moving quick enough.”

The news comes as ministers have been warned that new laws requiring minimum levels of service from ambulance staff, firefighters and railway workers during industrial action risk triggering a fresh clash with the unions.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps has claimed the new legislation, being introduced in the Commons on Tuesday, is a “common-sense” response to the wave of industrial unres but unions have said it could see key workers facing the sack if they exercise their right to strike, and that if it becomes law it could “poison industrial relations” and lead to more walkouts.

Mr Shapps said the new Bill would end the “postcode lottery” seen during the ambulance strike, when differing levels of service were agreed by striking unions with local NHS organisations.

“I don’t think any civilised society should have a situation where we can’t get agreement to, for example, have an ambulance turn up on a strike day for the most serious of all types of ailments,” he told Times Radio.

On Sky News, Mr Shapps said: “The problem we had in the recent strikes was that the Royal College of Nursing – that’s the nurses – did make that agreement at the national level so there was a guarantee.

“Unfortunately, the ambulance unions didn’t do that last time round, so there was a sort of regional postcode lottery. That’s the thing we want to avoid.

“That’s why today I’ll introduce minimum safety levels and service levels for key public services to make sure that we don’t end up in a situation where people’s lives are at risk, while still respecting the right to withdraw labour and strike.”

He played down the prospect of union members being sacked for refusing to work in line with the new law and insisted the Government is prepared for the legislation to be challenged in the courts.

Mr Shapps also said the Government wants to end “forever strikes” on the rail network and argued that new anti-strike legislation would bring the UK “into line” with other European countries.

“Everyone knows we want to bring these strikes, which in some cases, railways for example, seem to have turned into sort of forever strikes,” he said.

“We want to bring this to a close and the Government is bending over backwards to do that.”

 

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