The conservative British government tried to appease the growing social anger over the cost of living crisis by receiving the unions on Monday, without succeeding in stopping the strikes which have lasted for months to demand wage increases.
These discussions mark an openness to dialogue that contrasts with the very harsh tone adopted until now by the Conservative government. The latter announced that he was preparing a law to establish a minimum service in the public sector to reduce the impact of strikes, triggering the ire of the unions.
“The first thing we need to do is start talking properly,” Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak conceded to the BBC on Sunday when asked about the government’s willingness to respond to union demands.
The urgency of the crisis is palpable, as the railway workers continue their social movement with determination, after several strikes during the summer, in the fall, before Christmas and last week. Other walkouts are taking place in multiple sectors, including health, where the movement is very popular.
After meeting with representatives of the powerful transport union RMT, British Secretary of State for Rail Huw Merriman welcomed the “constructive” discussions, without RMT announcing any cessation of its mobilization.
Other unions lamented a “missed opportunity”: “It is very clear that they (the government, editor’s note) want our members to give more before studying [des revalorisations] wages,” criticized Onay Kasab of the Unite union.
The situation is particularly critical in health, where nurses will be on strike for two days in January, after having already walked out in December, a first for more than 100 years.
The strikes will “absolutely” take place, said Mr Kasab, saying he was “very angry” after meeting British Health Minister Steve Barclay, who according to the trade unionist did not present any “detailed” plan to get out of crisis.
The public healthcare system, the NHS, is stretched thin after years of underfunding and the Covid-19 pandemic, with patients waiting hours for ambulances or being treated in the emergency room. Several hospitals have opened food banks to help their staff deal with inflation.
Doctors and hospital managers are demanding immediate action, and the government held an emergency meeting on Saturday after which the Prime Minister called for a “bold and radical” approach.
– “Optimism” –
In the immediate term, with an inflation rate approaching 11% in the United Kingdom, nurses are demanding a substantial salary increase for the current year, which the executive has so far deemed “unaffordable” for nurses. public finances.
The Unison union – one of the main unions for NHS employees – highlighted “progress”: “We have managed to talk about wages,” said Sara Gorton of Unison after meeting the minister. But “we did not get the tangible concessions we might have hoped for that would allow us to call off the strikes later this week.”
The government is “focused on the current process of salary increases” for the coming fiscal year (2023-2024), a government spokesperson said on Monday.
For Downing Street, the meetings with the unions allow him “to discuss what is happening in private, and to listen to what the unions have to say”.
But other walkouts threaten: we will know this week the result of the votes in the ranks of teachers’ unions on future strikes in public establishments.
“We have made it very clear to the government that the time has come for intensive negotiations around a better salary offer for this year”, reacted Mary Mary Bousted, of the teachers’ union NEU, after meeting the Minister of Education Gillian Keegan.
“It’s now or never.”