Union talks aimed at ending strike action

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NHS nurses hold signs during a strike over payReuters

Ministers are due to hold separate talks with health, teaching and rail unions to try to bring an end to the country’s various strike actions.

On Sunday, Rishi Sunak told the BBC he wanted to have an “honest, two-way conversation” about pay.

Unions welcomed the remarks, but insist pay rises for nurses in this financial year must be addressed in the talks.

The government has so far only agreed to discuss a settlement for the next financial year, which starts in April.

The day of talks come as a ballot opens for junior doctors in England to decide on their own industrial action, which could begin in March.

This week’s strikes – which include planned walkouts by nurses, ambulance drivers, bus drivers, teachers and driving examiners – are all expected to go ahead.

In an interview on the Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg programme, Mr Sunak said he was “happy to talk about pay that is responsible, that’s affordable for the country”.

“We want to have a reasonable, two-way conversation about pay and everything else that is relevant,” he said.

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said his remarks offered a “chink of optimism”, but would not stop strikes scheduled for later this month.

NHS staff in England and Wales, including nurses, have been given an average pay rise of 4.75% this year but are calling for an increase in line with inflation, which is currently running at more than 10%.

Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, health secretary Steve Barclay suggested health workers could get a bigger pay rise in April if they agree to “efficiencies” in the NHS.

While health unions have said talks around this year’s pay are crucial, Mr Barclay wrote that “we should be moving forward and having constructive conversations about what is affordable this coming year, rather than going back retrospectively”.

Ambulance workers in England and Wales will strike for 24 hours on Wednesday – and again towards the end of the month – while nurses are currently planning a walkout on 18 and 19 January.

As well as two days this week, teachers are planning week-long industrial action next week in a pay dispute.