Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has written an article for the Independent to coincide with the latest nurses’ strike today. In what sounds like a change of tone from when he met the health unions last week (and was more conciliatory, at least according to some accounts), he says that if “unaffordable” pay rises for health workers would take resources away from patients. He says:
The nurses’ strike on Wednesday and the further walkouts for next month announced by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) on Monday will pile on further pressure at this challenging time. Around 30,000 procedures or outpatient appointments were postponed as a result of nurse strikes on 15 and 20 December, so I am disappointed that patients face disruption again …
With fewer than three months left of this financial year, it is time to look ahead, not back. I recognise the cost of living pressures on NHS staff and I know how hard they work. But if we provide unaffordable pay rises to NHS staff, we will take billions of pounds away from where we need it most. Unaffordable pay hikes will mean cutting patient care and stoking the inflation that would make us all poorer.
Good morning. Nurses are on strike in England today, and 1 February (a fortnight today) is gearing up to be the biggest strike day yet, with train drivers, teachers and civil servants all striking, on the same day the TUC holds a “protect the right to strike” day of campaigning.
The TUC is mobilising opposition to the government’s anti-strikes bill, and this morning No 10 suffered a set back when the International Labour Organisation, a UN agency, made it clear it was not backing the bill.
So what, you might think. This government does not worry too much about the views of international quangos, particularly ones that are relatively unknown. But in recent days ministers have repeatedly defended the bill by implying it has some sort of ILO backing. Grant Shapps, the business secretary, told the Commons on Monday:
The International Labour Organisation itself states that minimum service levels can be a proportionate way of balancing the right to strike with the need to protect the wider public. That is what we are doing. Our own unions subscribe to and support the ILO, as do we.
Rishi Sunak made the same point at PMQs last week.
But the BBC interviewed Gilbert Houngbo, director general of the ILO, at Davos, and Houngbo sounded surprised to learn that his organisation was being cited as quasi-endorsing the government’s bill. He told the broadcaster:
I’m not aware of any bilateral discussion on this matter. We are very worried that workers may have to accept situations so they don’t get themselves out of a job. They may have to accept a situation that is below par.
Faisal Islam, the BBC’s economics editor, has a good write-up of the story here.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Huw Merriman, the rail minister, gives evidence to the Commons transport committee.
9.45am: Andy Cooke, chief inspector of constabulary and fire and rescue services, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee on policing. At 10.45am Harvi Khatkar, chief superintendent and vice president at the Police Superintendents’ Association, and Steve Hartshorn, national chair at the Police Federation of England and Wales, give evidence.
10.15am: Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, holds a meeting with teaching union leaders.
12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.
After 12.45pm: MPs debate the final states of the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill.
Afternoon: Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is on a health visit.
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