Strikes: Teachers agree to government talks as junior doctors urged to sit down

Education unions have agreed to intensive talks, ITV News' political correspondent Libby Wiener reports

Education unions have agreed to “intensive talks” with the government on teacher pay, conditions and workload reduction, as ministers urge junior doctors to sit down with them to reach a deal to stop further strikes.

The teacher talks - beginning on Friday and lasting over the weekend - will involve unions including the National Education Union (NEU), whose members were on strike in England earlier this week.

A joint statement by the government and education unions said: “The government and the education trade unions, Association of School and College Leaders, National Association of Head Teachers, NASUWT and National Education Union, have agreed to move into a period of intensive talks. The talks will focus on teacher pay, conditions and workload reduction.

“In order for talks to begin and, we hope, reach a successful conclusion, the NEU has confirmed it will create a period of calm for two weeks during which time they have said no further strike dates will be announced."

Striking junior doctors could also meet with Health Secretary Steve Barclay this afternoon to discuss pay disputes, according to BMA officials, as they hope to reach an agreement with the government following health unions' pay rise breakthrough on Thursday.

It comes after thousands of junior doctors participated in a three-day walkout over pay resulting in tens of thousands of appointments being cancelled.

Ambulance members of Unison and Unite were due to strike next Monday and physiotherapists were going to walkout later this month but the action has been called off as members consider the offer. Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chairman of the British Medical Association’s junior doctors committee, told BBC Radio 4 he hopes talks with Steve Barclay can begin soon.

The union is demanding “pay restoration” for junior doctors, who can have many years’ experience and make up about 45% of the medical workforce.

Reporter Amy Lewis has the latest on government talks with education and junior doctor unions following weeks of stalemate

It says their pay has fallen in real terms by 26% since 2008/09 and reversing this would require a 35.3% pay rise.

Deputy PM Dominic Raab said the government had made a "good offer" and urged the BMA to accept it.

He said ministers have to prevent inflation busting pay increases, adding: "I don't think the BMA's suggestion of a 35% pay rise is right, but there is a positive offer on the table - I hope they take it."

Dr Trivedi said: “Our position has been that we are open to talk in good faith, meaningfully, at any time.

“We were ready to talk months ago. Our formal dispute started over 150 days ago and, again, that is just what I mean in that it is disappointing it has taken Steve Barclay so long to get to the negotiating table.

“I only hope that he does come with good faith and a mandate to negotiate.

“So far we haven’t arranged a time for this afternoon but there has been some correspondence between our offices so it does look like we’ll be able to set something up in the near future.”

Mr Barclay has called on junior doctors to follow the example of other health unions, who on Thursday said they will recommend a pay deal to NHS staff including nurses and ambulance workers.

The government has offered health workers including nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists, porters and cleaners, a one-off payment worth 6% of their salary for this financial year.

Union members will now vote on whether to accept the deal, with workers expected to consider the detail over the coming days and weeks.

“We have offered the same terms to the junior doctors that were accepted by the other trade unions and that is what I hope the junior doctors will respond to,” Mr Barclay said.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay invited the BMA for talks last week. Credit: PA

The offer – backed by the Royal College of Nursing, the GMB and Unison – includes a one-off lump sum for 2022-23 that rises in value up the NHS pay bands as well as a permanent 5% rise on all pay points for 2023-24.

Downing Street said the new pay deal offered to striking health workers would cost an additional £4 billion.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The non-consolidated element for 2022/23 is an additional investment of around £2.7 billion.

“The consolidated element for 2023/24 is an additional investment of around £1.3 billion”.

He would not detail how it will be funded, with the health department to hold discussions with the Treasury.

While most of the unions backed the deal, Unite has said it cannot recommend that it's members accept but will put it to a vote and support any decisions that are made.

The breakthrough on Thursday came following days of talks between health unions and the government, raising hopes that the long-running dispute could be brought to an end.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted that frontline services will “absolutely not” be affected by any final pay deal while Mr Barclay said funding for the agreement would not come at the expense of patients.

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Meanwhile, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the NHS does not have the money “just lying around” to fund the pay offer itself.

He said it will be “very important that we find out in the next few days how we’re going to meet this extra cost”.

Mr Taylor added: “The government has said in its press release today (on Thursday) that the cost of this will be met without any impact on patient services or quality of care.

“Well, that’s a good guarantee. And we’ll want to see that being delivered on in the next few days.”

“There’s no way that the NHS can find one-and-a-half, two billion, two-and-a-half billion pounds without an impact on patient services or quality of care. We don’t have that money just lying around,” he told Channel 4 News.

Rachel Harrison, national secretary of the GMB, said that officials negotiating on behalf of NHS workers for a pay rise were told the proposed 5% pay increase from April would not be funded from the health service’s existing budgets.

She said: “That was one of the conditions that the GMB and some of the other unions put on the table before we even entered the room.

“We wanted reassurance that this was additional money and it was not going to come out of NHS current budgets and that was the commitment we were given by the government.”