UK govt urges unions to end strikes, vows to curb walkouts

LONDON (AP) — The British government on Thursday dangled the prospect of public-sector pay hikes next year in an attempt to end strikes by nurses and ambulance staff that have piled pressure on an already overburdened health system.

The government invited union leaders for talks on 2023-24 pay rates and promised a “cooperative spirit” – while also saying it will introduce legislation in the coming weeks to make it harder for key workers to walk out.

The Conservative administration said it will set ”minimum safety levels” regarding staffing for firefighters, ambulance services and railways that must be maintained during a strike.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps said the new law would “restore the balance between those seeking to strike and protecting the public from disproportionate disruption.” Some Conservative lawmakers have argued for an even tougher law that would ban strikes by essential health care workers.

Unions condemned the planned law. The GMB union, which represents some ambulance staff, said its members “should have the right to stand up for themselves and the health service we all depend on.”

The government said it hopes to sit down with union leaders to discuss evidence on pay and working conditions that will be submitted to the review bodies that oversee salaries in parts of the public sector.

Britain has seen months of strikes, including a walkout by train drivers on Thursday that scuttled journeys across the country.

Rail workers, like others who work in the public sector, say wages have failed to keep pace with the skyrocketing cost of living. Inflation in the U.K. soared to a 41-year high of 11.1% late last year, driven by sharply rising energy and food costs.

Nurses, airport baggage handlers, ambulance and bus drivers and postal workers were among those who walked off their jobs in December to demand higher pay.

Ambulance staff are set to strike again on Jan. 11 and 23, while nurses will do the same Jan. 18-19.

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