New Year could see ‘coordinated strikes’, warns TUC boss with Brits set for more pain

The new general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has warned of coordinated strikes among unions in the new year unless the government steps in amid widespread pay disputes.

Paul Nowak told Sky News on Thursday that strikes among health, rail and postal workers, teachers and Border Force staff “could end tomorrow if the government was prepared for serious and sensible discussions about pay”.

He said “now is the time” for the Government to act as a “facilitator” of pay settlements, and not a “barrier”.

He claimed the Government has been “sabotaging” efforts to resolve the tsunami of strikes continuing to sweep across the country, pointing to ministers’ response to rail and nurses strikes.

“Look what happened last week in the health service. In the midst of a pay dispute the health minister Stephen Barclay said he would talk about anything with the unions except pay.

“It’s a real slap in the face for those NHS staff who had no alternative but to take strike action.”

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) on the picket line outside London Euston train station (PA Wire)
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) on the picket line outside London Euston train station (PA Wire)

Mr Nowak warned of further disruption if ministers don’t come to the table, saying unions have a “responsibility” to support striking workers, “and that means in some circumstances coordinated industrial action”.

“In some cases, that might mean unions taking strike action on the same day and in other cases it will be a rolling wave of industrial action,” he told Sky News.

Mr Nowak questioned whether the system of public sector pay review bodies can continue in its present form on BBC’s Radio 4.

He said that if the review bodies are to have real credibility they had to be “genuinely independent” but that currently they are going into the process with their “hands tied” by the Government.

“Our unions are looking very seriously at the pay review bodies and looking particularly at the way the Government has used them effectively as a human shield in this discussion about public sector pay,” he told the Today programme.

“The pay review body process itself is in danger of being brought into disrepute because the Government is hiding behind the pay review bodies, refusing to negotiate on pay and refusing to reach a reasonable settlement with our public sector unions.

“Starting off the conversation about NHS pay by saying ‘We’ve got this limited amount of money, that’s all there is, it doesn’t matter what evidence the unions bring to the table, it doesn’t matter what the pressures are on the workforce’ I don’t think is a reasonable starting point for a reasonable conversation about public sector pay.”

His warnings come as further Border Force and rail strikes are underway and more NHS strikes loom large.

Border Force staff at Britain’s largest airports are continuing strikes for three days until New Year’s Eve.

Driving examiners have also launched a five-day strike as part of escalating industrial action by civil servants in a dispute over pay, jobs and pensions.

It comes as rail disruption is set to continue with members of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) at Great Western Railway and West Midlands Trains set to go on strike.

TSSA union members at Great Western Railway walked out at noon on Wednesday until 11.59am on Thursday, and at West Midlands Trains for the same time.

More two-day walkouts by RMT union members are due on January 3 and 4, then January 6-7. Elizabeth Line workers are set to walk off the job on January 12.

Road traffic officers and control room staff working for National Highways in South West England and the West Midlands will walk out on Friday. Other National Highways workers will strike on January 3 and 4.

A national teachers‘ strike will take place on January 10 and 11.

Meanwhile NHS nurses are striking on January 18 and 19 because of disputes over pay and patients’ safety. Further Royal Mail strikes are expected but have not been announced.