The government is now able to play divide and conquer with England’s healthcare unions.
There will be delight in Number 10 that three quarters of Unison members accepted the 5% pay offer, while the Royal College of Nursing’s rejection of the deal was far narrower (54%/46%).
The two biggest unions now have contrasting strategies: Unison has made it clear they will not be involved in any more NHS strikes this year, while RCN have announced 48 hours of industrial action at the end of this month.
Yet the prime minister still has a ‘whackamole’-like challenge on his hands, with a damaging junior doctors strike ongoing, and more industrial action being announced elsewhere in the public sector.
While there are signs of progress with the RMT rail union, four English teaching unions have rejected a pay offer.
Today the three civil service unions (PCS, Prospect and FDA) responded with anger after being told in an “embarrassing” meeting with ministers that a long-expected negotiation process was being scrapped and a pay rise was being imposed on workers.
Civil servants threaten further strikes after government’s ‘insulting’ pay offer
‘The system is broken’: On the A&E frontline on second day of junior doctors’ strike
The PCS is balloting its members, Prospect has now announced strikes, and sources at FDA suggest their members likely to back industrial action. Coordination between the three is also possible.
Rishi Sunak’s problem is that this succession of bad headlines feeds into a public perception – evidenced in polls and focus groups – of chaos.
Before the next election the PM needs to try and end the sense among some voters that things in Britain are broken.
That is made more difficult by the high levels of support for nurses compared with politicians.
Polling from the More In Common think tank suggests 82% of voters trust nurses, whereas 24% trust their MP, and just 22% trust the Conservative Party.