The British Medical Association (BMA) has said it will “pause” the consultants’ NHS strikes – but only if the government gets back around the negotiating table. The doctors union has said it is willing to work with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) to try and break the deadlock. However, PM Rishi Sunak seems unmoved – on BBC Breakfast he said the government would be happy to talk to the BMA about anything except pay.
BMA doctors: the strikes continue
Consultant and junior doctor members of the BMA have recently been on strike at the same time. They walked out at 7am on Monday 2 October for three days over pay and working conditions. It follows similar action in September, where both sets of professionals walked out at the same time – for the first time ever. As the Canary reported at the time:
A two-day strike by consultants started on Tuesday 19 September. Junior doctors then joined them for a three-day strike from Wednesday.
Previous industrial action has seen consultants and junior doctors strike at different times, allowing them to cover for each other.
The industrial action centres around the fact that:
- Junior doctors’ pay has fallen by 26% in real terms since 2008.
- Consultants’ pay has also collapsed – falling by 35% in real terms since 2008.
So, the BMA is calling for pay restoration for junior doctors, in line with inflation since 2008/09. For consultants, it says it wants a:
credible offer that puts an end to these pay cuts and a commits to reforming the pay review body process so that it can be truly independent in reviewing consultant pay and begin addressing these historic losses.
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However, the government has refused to budge from its 6% pay rise offer for both groups, with an additional £1,250 one-off payment for junior doctors – for an average rise of 8.8%. So, the strikes have continued, but the BMA is now offering the Tories an olive branch.
Extending an olive branch
As the Times reported, BMA consultant leader Dr Vishal Sharma has written to the government. He said the BMA was:
willing to involve Acas to conciliate a resolution and would encourage you to accept this offer… Strike action is not inevitable
However, Sharma was also clear that this was the only offer available:
if ministers continue to refuse to engage with us, and we have no credible deal that we can put to our members by November 3, then we will have no option but to give notice for strike action to resume in November and December.
The Times reported that BMA chiefs said the consultants’ offer might also be applied to the junior doctors’ dispute. Essentially, the BMA’s junior doctor leads already offered the government an Acas consultation in April. They stated that that offer still stands – but the government has to make the next move.
Sharma told BBC Breakfast that, given the BMA’s letter:
there really is no reason why the government should not come and talk to us now.
Willful obtuseness from Sunak
So, with the BMA extending this olive branch while chaos engulfs the government, you’d think Sunak would have bitten the union’s hand off. Instead, the PM didn’t even meet the BMA half way.
During an interview with BBC Breakfast, Sunak said:
We’re always willing to talk on things that are not related to pay. We’ve made that offer very clearly to the BMA… a 9% pay rise, more than the nurses, more than anyone else in the public sector. The question for them is why aren’t they coming to work?
Of course, Sunak wilfully confused the two strikes (consultants are not getting a 9% pay rise), and he over-egged the junior doctors’ pay offer (it’s not 9%). Moreover, his divide-and-conquer tactic (‘you’re getting more money than anyone else and you’re STILL not happy?’) is well-worn. However, it’s his intentional obtuseness which is likely to put NHS workers’ noses most out of joint.
Sunak and the government know they need to sit down with the BMA over pay – that’s how industrial relations work. By refusing to discuss the main thing doctors are striking over, the Tories are leaving no room to maneuver on either side. This is probably the point, as it leaves the BMA with no option but to strike, and the government looking like it’s playing hard ball for patients. In reality, though, these strikes are of the Tories making – and only they can resolve them.
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