Nurses will have to back down on pay raise demands, union boss admits

Paul Nowak – Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Nurses and other striking workers demanding inflation-fighting pay rises will have to backtrack on their demands, a union boss admitted.

Paul Nowak, 50, the new head of the Trades Union Congress, said both sides will have to compromise in pay disputes as the government said it would not be “held hostage” by striking workers.

Speaking on his first day on the job, Nowak – whose organization represents 48 unions and 5.5 million workers – said the government must sit down with those leaving and find a “landing zone” to end the strike .

The Royal College of Nursing is seeking a five per cent pay rise over retail inflation, which means a 19.2 per cent increase, one of the largest increases demanded by unions.

Although TUC members do not include the RCN, Nowak told Radio 4’s Today show that the request was unrealistic. He said he hoped a compromise could be reached, but that would only be possible if the government sat down to negotiate, which he said he “refused” to do.

“There has to be a landing zone of somewhere between the four to five percent that the government has offered and the 19 percent that some unions have claimed, but what’s critically important is that the government actually sit down and I negotiate,” he said. She said

Mr Nowak added that the government needed to talk about pay and said Steve Barclay, the health secretary, needed to start discussions with nurses and paramedics. “My message to the government is that you have to talk and you have to compromise,” he said.

The head of the TUC also questioned whether the system of public sector wage control bodies could continue in its current form.

He said if the bodies were to have credibility they had to be “genuinely independent” but currently enter the process with “hands tied” by the government.

“Our unions take pay review bodies very seriously and look particularly at how effectively the government has used them as a human shield in this public sector pay discussion,” Nowak said.

“The pay review body process itself risks being discredited because the government hides behind the pay review bodies, refusing to negotiate and refusing to reach a reasonable agreement with our public sector unions.”

Ben Wallace, the defense secretary, insisted on Thursday that there was “no magic wand” to making the money for wage bonuses above inflation. He said the government was unwilling to ignore the recommendations of pay review bodies, adding that it was up to unions to speak directly to their employers.

“We’re not going back to the 1970s when union barons thought they were running government,” he said. We will not be held hostage.

Wallace said unions can negotiate with employers, but they need to understand that the government can’t afford money the country doesn’t have.

“Ultimately, we’re in a position where we’re trying to listen to independent advice, through the independent paying bodies, offer a settlement to the workforce, and then try to work it out to a solution,” he said. “But if the union leadership thinks we are all going to ignore these independent bodies to suit their agenda, then they are wrong.”

In January, new strikes by railway workers, nurses and paramedics are expected, with the vote of firefighters and teachers.

Nowak said that in the private sector, employers have listened to demands and agreed on wage increases that are sustainable for workers and manageable by businesses.

He said: ‘I think they need to listen to their own staff, listen to the pressures that are on those staff. This happens not only in the private sector, if you look at other countries of the world. In Belgium, for example, staff had an inflation-proof salary increase. Governments can do that.”

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