Strike chaos: UK must pull together in troubled times. And that means Tories must talk to unions – Scotsman comment
Thankfully, Health Secretary Steve Barclay has agreed to make an exception for the Royal College of Nursing and discuss their situation in England. Given this is a union that has never gone on strike before, it should be treated as a special case.
However, while ridiculous demands like the one by RMT general-secretary Mick Lynch for face-to-face talks with Rishi Sunak should be rejected, ministers and officials need to negotiate with other unions if they threaten industrial action that will cause severe disruption, economic damage and, potentially, loss of life. Refusing to do so is a shocking dereliction of duty, even if there seems little point.
After all, unless one side or the other backs down unilaterally, which seems unlikely in the current disputes, all such matters eventually end in some form of negotiated settlement. Playing hard to get might be part of the government’s strategy, but that risks unnecessarily prolonging damaging strikes.
In contrast to the stand-off south of the Border, the Scottish Government’s improved pay offer to health staff saw two unions, Unite and Unison, call off planned industrial action yesterday, with the RCN and Royal College of Physiotherapists still considering their responses. The deal means an average rise of 7.5 per cent, well below current inflation, showing workers are prepared to accept a degree of pain. Whether that represents a good deal for taxpayers may be revealed in Thursday’s Scottish Budget, when John Swinney could lay out the price that other public spending priorities have had to pay.
However, good deal or bad, there is seldom any harm done by talking, it’s how differences are resolved. Problems occur when one side or another fails to negotiate in good faith, often for political reasons. Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting accused the Conservatives of “spoiling for a fight”; others may suspect Lynch is more interested in grandstanding than a reasonable settlement for RMT members.
With the economy in such a mess and geopolitical forces beyond our control threatening worse to come, the UK needs to stop squabbling and pull together. Life’s tough enough without adding to our woes by sulky refusals to communicate.
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