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Bill to ensure ‘minimum safety levels’ during industrial action being introduced

The Government will introduce new legislation to Parliament on Tuesday for “minimum safety levels” during industrial action.

The Bill would ensure vital public services maintain a “basic function” when workers go on strike, the Business Department previously said.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps has said the legislation will demonstrate “life and limb must come first” when strike action takes place.

He told GB News: “We don’t really ever want to have to use that legislation.”

The proposals have sparked threats of legal challenges, while Labour has said it would likely repeal the legislation.

The introduction of the Bill comes a day after crisis talks between ministers and unions failed to resolve industrial disputes involving nurses, teachers and rail workers.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay is considering backdating next year’s NHS staff pay increase as part of efforts to prevent further strikes, several reports have suggested.

NHS crisis
Health Secretary Steve Barclay spoke in the Commons following his meeting with union officials on Monday (Andy Bailey/UK Parliament/PA)

Mr Barclay used a meeting with health unions on Monday to suggest that improvements in efficiency and productivity within the health service could “unlock additional funding” to lead to an increased offer for the 2023/24 pay settlement in the spring.

Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said there had been an “acknowledgement” from the Health Secretary during the talks that avoiding strikes over next year’s pay settlement would “involve a reach-back” into the current pay year.

It raises the prospect that the pay deal for 2023/24, which is due to be agreed in time for April, could be backdated and applied to the final quarter of the 2022/23 financial year.

Ms Gorton said the discussion represented a “tone change” from the UK Government, with pay discussions firmly on the table after months of ministers refusing to budge beyond what had been recommended by the independent pay review bodies.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, the Unison official said: “There was an acknowledgement from the Secretary of State (Steve Barclay) that, to use his words, any resolution to the dispute now, or preventing further disputes for next year’s pay, would involve a reach-back into the current pay year.”

Unions said there was no “tangible offer” made, however, with Ms Gorton calling for “cold hard cash” to be offered so members can be consulted over ceasing industrial action.

Multiple reports have suggested that unions put forward the call for the 2023/24 pay deal to be backdated to January in order to create a bigger uplift for 2022/23.

The Daily Telegraph, citing a source close to Mr Barclay, said the Health Secretary had “agreed to consider both this idea and proposals for a one-off payment”.

On the issue of a one-off payment, an ally of Mr Barclay said he had “listened to what (they) had to say and agreed to take it away”.

Unison general secretary Christina McAnea, asked on BBC’s Newsnight whether a backdated pay offer was something she recognised, said: “That hasn’t been put to us.

“All of it would have to depend on what the actual figures were like when you take them over a year.

“If we were talking about a fairly low sum for 2023/24 and that being backdated, then no, I don’t think it would be enough.”

The Government had previously refused to discuss wages for nurses and other public-sector workers, insisting those were matters for the independent pay review bodies, but over the weekend Mr Sunak hinted at movement.

While there were positive noises about the talks in some quarters, other unions were incensed by the lack of perceived progress.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and Unite criticised the meeting with Mr Barclay, accusing ministers of “intransigence”.

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The discussions in Whitehall were not enough to prevent the likelihood of further strikes in the health sector.

Physiotherapists also said they would be announcing industrial action dates later this week despite the talks while the GMB union said ambulance strikes would go ahead as planned on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) union will stage a strike in primary schools, special schools and early years sites, the DVSA driving examiners’ strike continues in London, the South East, South Wales and the South West, Rural Payments Agency (RPA) continue their walkout and London bus workers at Abellio go on strike.

On Monday it was not only health officials meeting with ministers, with Westminster hosting a series of cross-sector talks as the UK Government grapples with industrial action in the face of high inflation.

Teaching unions met Education Secretary Gillian Keegan ahead of announcements this week over whether their members will go on strike.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), urged ministers to come forward with “real and concrete proposals very quickly” to avoid possible strike action this year.

Rail minister Huw Merriman called in train workers after sustained action crippled services, with only one in five trains running between Tuesday and Saturday.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch dodged questions about progress in rail talks but said that further discussions would take place.