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Tory minister accuses nurses of playing into Putin's hands by striking over pay

Tory minister accuses nurses of playing into Putin's hands by striking over pay <i>(Image: BBC)</i>
Tory minister accuses nurses of playing into Putin's hands by striking over pay (Image: BBC)

Conservative party chairman Nadhim Zahawi has urged nurses to take below inflation pay rises to “send a very clear message to Mr Putin”

The frontbencher was discussing contingency plans for the industrial action due to take place in England over the coming weeks.

In Scotland, the strikes have been called off while members of the Royal College of Nursing, Unison and the GMB vote on whether to accept an offer that works out as an average of 7.5 per cent across the board.

READ MORE: NHS strikes set to be paused following improved pay offer

NHS staff in England, Northern Ireland and Wales are to due to walk out on December 15 and 20, with the UK's health minister, Steve Barclay refusing to negotiate any improvement of the government’s offer of 3%

Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge programme on Sunday, Mr Zahawi insisted it was up to union leaders to call off the strike.

This is not a time to be divided. We have to come together to, I hope, send a very clear message to Mr Putin that he can’t use energy as a weapon in this way,” he said.

“If you chase inflation or above-inflation pay then you will embed inflation for longer and hurt the most vulnerable. This is not a time to strike, this is a time to negotiate.

“To ask for a 19% pay rise (for nurses) which would cost the NHS £10 billion I think is the wrong thing to do right now.

“If you accept all the inflation-level pay rises, that is about £28 billion. It would cost every household just short of £1,000. That is unsustainable when we are trying to be fiscally disciplined.”

READ MOREKate Winslet says £17k energy bill for Scottish girl’s needs ‘completely wrong’

On contingency planning, Mr Zahawi told told Sky News that the government was "looking at a specialist response force which we set up a number of years ago."

He added: "We have to make sure our borders are always secure and that is something we guarantee. Things like driving ambulances and other parts of the public sector – we have got to try and minimise disruption.”

Pat Cullen, the RCN's general secretary said using Russia’s war in Ukraine "as a justification for a real-terms pay cut for nurses in the UK is a new low for this Government."

“The public does not believe this kind of rhetoric and wants ministers to address our dispute,” she said.

“Nursing staff cannot afford their food and other bills and still fear the worst on energy this winter.

“But our campaign is about more than today’s cost-of-living crisis – it’s a cry for help for an NHS that’s had a decade of neglect. Record numbers of nurses are leaving because they feel undervalued and patients are paying the price.

“Ten days until our strike action is due to begin, I reiterate my commitment to meeting with ministers to address our dispute. Instead of negotiating with nurses, they are choosing strike action.”

The Liberal Democrats said it was “ludicrous and insulting to suggest Vladimir Putin is responsible for nurses going on strike”.

“The responsibility lies firmly with this Conservative government’s shambolic failure to find a solution,” said Christine Jardine, the Lib Dems’ Cabinet Office spokesperson.

Labour’s Bridget Phillipson told the BBC there needed to be a “fair deal for workers” and there could not be a “position of agreement without negotiation”.

She said trade unions were “desperate to have a conversation and have a discussion around pay.”

As well as NHS staff, there is expected to be widespread disruption to transport across the UK in the run up to Christmas with further rails strikes, walk-outs by baggage handlers at Heathrow and possible action by Border Force staff.

The Fire Brigades Union is also currently balloting its members while industrial action is continuing in the Post Office.