Paul Nowak, the new general secretary of the TUC, is calling for an urgent meeting with Rishi Sunak in a bid to change government direction and allow ministers to open pay negotiations with unions to resolve disputes.
Nowak, who succeeded Frances O’Grady as leader of the union body last week, said he was ready to “clear his diary” to find a resolution to help resolve industrial relations in the public sector.
In a letter to the prime minister, Nowak highlighted the need for urgent pay negotiations: “Our public services are in crisis after years of underfunding and understaffing. We can’t solve these problems without a fair deal for the people on the frontline.
“Every month, experienced employees are quitting, with one in three public service staff now taking steps to leave their professions or actively considering it. This is simply unsustainable. But we cannot fix the staffing crisis in our schools, hospitals and elsewhere if we do not fix the underlying causes.”
Public sector pay disputes
TUC polling published in the autumn revealed that around one third of key workers in the public sector (32%) have either already taken steps to leave their profession or are actively considering it.
Nowak said that staffing crises in health and education will get worse unless public service staff get a fair pay deal.
Nurses, ambulance workers, rail workers, bus drivers, Border Force staff and driving examiners are all striking over below-inflation pay offers. Teachers in Scotland go on strike next week, with their colleagues in England currently being balloted over pay.
“With inflation north of 10%, [public sector workers] simply cannot afford another real-terms pay cut,” wrote Nowak in his letter to the prime minister.
Other ballots include firefighters and junior doctors and more than 100,000 staff in the civil service have also voted in favour of strikes.
Nowak, who served as the TUC’s deputy general secretary for six years, added: “Unions worked closely with you during the pandemic to deliver the furlough scheme and to protect millions of jobs. That’s the kind of mature approach we need now.
“While your ministers continue to refuse point blank to discuss improving wages, there can be no resolution. In the NHS, for example, appropriate structures already exist to allow the immediate start of pay negotiations involving health unions, employers and ministers. This was exactly what happened in 2018, leading to the three-year wage deal.
“We want to find a resolution to the current disputes so our public service staff can get on with doing the jobs they love. And so our public services can start to improve for everyone who relies on them.”