Government gamble means working people are the losers, says UNISON

Christina McAnea tells TUC that co-ordination with other unions will deliver results on pay

Speaking to the annual Trades Union Congress in Brighton today (Tuesday), UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said the time had come for the government to take responsibility for its actions, that working people were paying the price and that co-ordinated industrial action could help solve the pay crisis.

“I was on a hospital picket line in Blackpool recently, early one morning in the wind and rain.

“Most of the strikers were cleaners, catering staff or porters, who work for private company OCS.

“They don’t get full NHS pay and leave, and even during the pandemic, when they worked on Christmas Day, they only got the usual rate.

“All they want is the same wages and sick pay as directly-employed NHS staff doing the same job. One of the people I met on the picket told me she walks an hour to and from work every day as she can no longer afford the bus.

“That’s the reality of taking strike action, the reality of the cost of living crisis and the depth of the pay crisis.

“The picture inside NHS hospitals is not much prettier. Over a quarter have set up food banks to help their staff.

“What a shameful period in our history. In-work poverty has spread right across our public services. Working people have struggled through austerity, a deadly pandemic and are in the middle of a devastating cost of living crisis. They now face a repeat of the penny-pinching austerity programme begun in 2010.

“Meanwhile, the government has been playing roulette, racking up debt on the public tab. Their gambling always ends with the same result – that working people lose.

“And thank you, Crispin Blunt, Tory MP, for his wise words over the weekend. Yes, ‘the game is up’. But this should never have been a game. This is serious.

“The government has run out of people to blame. These are mistakes all of their own making. Ministers can’t blame the last government because they were part of it. They can’t blame the markets for over-reacting, nor global events. It’s time for them to take responsibility.

“They must take responsibility for a decade of public spending cuts and depressed public sector wages that have run down essential services. Political choices that have made the economy weaker and working people poorer.

“The new chancellor’s record as health secretary makes me genuinely concerned about what’s to come. Playing musical chairs about who is in charge won’t fix the economy or our public services.

“Therese Coffey seems happy to wave goodbye to nurses if they want higher pay. And I’m sure her great plan to get one million volunteers into the NHS will solve all its problems.

“Liz Truss quietly apologised but only for bringing in her changes too quickly. While she chops and changes her chancellors and policies, the chaos continues.

“It reeks of desperation. Not desperation to save the country. But to save the Tories. The party is sinking in the polls because mortgage repayments, energy bills, and food and travel costs are up.

“The country can’t take any more. Workers can’t take any more. Only a general election, can get rid of this bunch of chancers.

“UNISON will never stop making the case for properly funded public services, and the amazing people providing them.

“The union is about to ballot 400,000 NHS workers for strike action because the government has delivered a pay cut in all but name.

“Unions have always worked together because that’s how to get the biggest impact. Co-ordinating action will deliver and together we will end the pay crisis.”

Notes to editors:
– The ballot of NHS staff in England and Wales opens on 27 October and closes on 25 November. The Northern Ireland strike ballot opens the same day but closes on 18 November. A ballot of health staff in Scotland began on Monday 3 October and continues until 31 October. In all over 400,000 NHS staff will be asked to vote.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

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