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Labour’s Jon Ashworth hints he would back nurses STRIKING over pay row

Labour’s Jon Ashworth hints he would back nurses going on STRIKE over ‘insulting’ 1% pay rise as ministers insist Covid economic meltdown means the government cannot afford more

  • Labour’s John Ashworth insisted he supports nurses’ right to strike over pay row
  • Ministers have defended the 1 per cent pay increase proposed for NHS workers
  • Government says spiralling £2.8trillion debt means the UK cannot afford more 

Labour’s Jon Ashworth today hinted that he would back nurses going on strike over the 1 per cent pay increase proposed by the government – despite ministers insisting it is all the country can afford at the moment.

The shadow health secretary suggested he would be ready to join picket lines as he was repeatedly pressed over the extent of his support for action by unions.

The Royal College of Nursing has called for a 12.5 per cent increase and set up a £35million strike fund, while Unite has said it could ballot members after the ‘insulting’ 1 per cent figure was proposed by the Department of Health.

However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson insisted there had been ‘record increases’ going to doctors and nurses, and the UK now faced ‘a much more difficult economic period’ with national debt set to spiral to £2.8trillion.

He stressed that outside the NHS all other public sector workers are facing a pay freeze. 

The Royal College of Nursing has launched this digital billboard campaign and set up a £35million strike fund over the proposed 1 per cent rise

Labour's Jon Ashworth today hinted that he would back nurses going on strike over the 1 per cent pay increase proposed by the government

Labour’s Jon Ashworth today hinted that he would back nurses going on strike over the 1 per cent pay increase proposed by the government

The submission from the government to the NHS pay body is for a headline 1 per cent rise, meaning that some types of staff are likely to get more and others less.

It also notes that a further 0.7 per cent hike to the pay envelope planned under the wider health service modernisation will still go ahead. The pay body will make a recommendation in May, but the final decision rests with ministers. 

Appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show this morning, Mr Ashworth said he believed nurses did not want to strike over the Government’s NHS pay recommendation and it was ‘hypothetical’.

But pressed repeatedly on whether he would support action, he told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show he ‘always’ supported the right to strike. ‘I know nurses, they don’t want to go on strike,’ he said.

‘I will always support the rights of staff to take industrial action but we don’t want to get to that place, so the Government have to drop this 1 per cent pay rise, which is a pay cut.

‘I talk to nurses all the time and they don’t want to go on strike, and I’ll always stand by them.’

Without giving a categorical commitment, Mr Ashworth said he had joined picket lines in the past. 

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy delivered a similar message when she was asked about the threat of strikes, saying she ‘always supports nurses’ and is ‘determined to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with nurses to get them a pay rise’. 

‘We think nurses deserve a pay rise this year and that should never have been something that was up for negotiation – this is a Government that has completely got its priorities wrong.

‘If they can give a special adviser (Dominic Cummings) who broke the rules a 50 per cent pay rise but then offer our nurses a real-terms pay cut, that is a Government that just has not understood who it is that is getting us through this crisis.’ 

Asked on the BBC whether he believes nurses deserve more than 1 per cent, Mr Williamson said: ‘What we are having to deal with is an incredibly challenging economic situation where we have put forward a proposal.

Unions branded the offer from the government a 'callous and an enormous slap in the face' after a year on the front line of the coronavirus crisis - with some demanding a 12.5 per cent increase

Unions branded the offer from the government a ‘callous and an enormous slap in the face’ after a year on the front line of the coronavirus crisis – with some demanding a 12.5 per cent increase 

‘We’ve put forward what we believe we can afford and is part of a process and that was what will be looked at.

‘But really, our focus is on making sure we recover from this pandemic.’

On whether there could be a rethink on the recommendation, Mr Williamson added: ‘We’ve stated that this is very much part of the process – what the Government has put forward has been passed to an independent review.’

The Cabinet minister ducked when pushed on the contrast between Mr Johnson’s makeover of his Downing Street residence – claimed to be costing up to £200,000 – and the treatment of nurses.

‘I am, as you can guess, probably more interested and more fascinated about making sure children get back to school tomorrow. I know from my perspective as a dad, that’s certainly what I am wanting to see,’ he told Sky News. 

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