The government has been “sabotaging” efforts to resolve the wave of strikes continuing to sweep across the country, the new general secretary of the TUC has said.
Paul Nowak has taken over the job of heading the Trades Union Congress during the biggest outbreak of industrial unrest in a generation, with the leaders of health, rail, civil service, teaching and postal unions increasingly angry at the lack of involvement from government ministers.
The TUC is a national trade union centre which represents the majority of trade unions. There are 48 affiliated unions with around 5.5 million members.
Nurses, ambulance workers and other NHS staff have been joined by rail, bus and postal workers in going on strike in December. Teachers, civil servants such as Border Force officers, National Highways employees, airport baggage handlers and homeless charity employees have also walked off the job.
Paul Nowak will be interviewed live on Sky News at 8:30am. Watch on your TV, online or the mobile app.
Mr Nowak has challenged the government and employers to work with unions to end what he described as Britain’s “living standards nightmare”.
He warned that workers were facing two decades of “lost pay” unless the country changes course.
In an interview with the Press Association news agency, he said strikes were normally resolved through negotiations, but added that the government was refusing to come to the table.
“We want to see public services where workers are properly rewarded and respected,” he said. “There is overwhelming support for NHS workers, so it is not good enough for government ministers to continue to put their fingers in their ears.”
Mr Nowak said the government seemed “blind” to the staffing crisis in the NHS, stressing he will make it a priority to meet the prime minister and other cabinet ministers to try to help resolve the many disputes raging across the country.
To mark his appointment, the TUC published new analysis it said showed that workers are enduring the longest real wage squeeze in modern history.
Its study suggested that workers have lost £20,000, on average, in real wages since 2008 as a result of pay not keeping up with inflation, and by 2025 the loss will total £24,000.
Image: Paul Nowak Nurses have lost £42,000 in real earnings since 2008, midwives £56,000 and paramedics £56,000, with workers facing another year of “pay misery”, said the TUC.
Mr Nowak said striking workers have been “left with no choice” after more than a decade of pay cuts, and accused ministers of “sabotaging efforts to reach settlements”.
The Conservatives’ decision to hold down public sector pay has left workers “hugely exposed to the cost of living crisis” and deepened the staffing crisis in the NHS, education and other public services, he said.
Mr Nowak said he was “daunted and excited” at succeeding Frances O’Grady as general secretary, adding that his priority will be to build a “bigger, stronger and more diverse” trade union movement.
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He added: “Today I am issuing a challenge to government and employers – work with unions to end Britain’s living standards nightmare.
“UK workers are on course for two decades of lost pay. This is the longest squeeze on earnings in modern history.
“We can’t go on like this. We can’t be a country where nurses are having to use food banks, while City bankers get unlimited bonuses.
“Unless we get wages rising across the economy, families will just keep lurching from crisis to crisis.
“Unions stand ready to work with good employers to drive up growth, living standards and productivity.
“For too long we have been trapped in a vicious Conservative cycle of stagnant growth, stagnant investment and stagnant wages.
“It’s time for a proper long-term economic plan that rewards work not wealth.”
Meanwhile, Mr Nowak told The Mirror workers are at a “pivotal point” in the strikes and they are ready to strike until the summer because they have “no alternative”.
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In an interview with the i newspaper, he said unions could boycott next year’s negotiations with pay review bodies.
Pay review bodies are made up of experts in their field without political affiliations who take evidence from a range of sources, including trade unions and staff.
However, the bodies are appointed by ministers and there are concerns over their credibility.
Mr Nowak said: “Unions are worried about the credibility of the pay review bodies and are actively considering how or should they engage next year.”
It comes a day after Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union which represents Border Force staff, told Sky News strike action is likely to become “co-ordinated and synchronised”.
He added: “If we go into 2023 with millions of people suffering in-work poverty, including the government’s own staff, something has to be done.”