Sharon Graham has accused Rishi Sunak of being “missing in action” over strikes by ambulance workers and urged the Prime Minister to “come to the table and do the deal” to resolve the dispute.
Ambulance staff represented by Unite, UNISON and the GMB are on strike today over pay. Ten further days of industrial action by Unite ambulance workers are planned in the coming weeks, including on February 6th when GMB members will also strike again.
Speaking to Good Morning Britain today, the Unite general secretary said Sunak was the “CEO of UK PLC” and the “ultimate employer” in regard to the NHS, but claimed that she had “not seen this man talk about the NHS for weeks”.
Asked whether she is having discussions with Steve Barclay about pay, Graham said: “We have not been in any talks with the Health Secretary for 2022/23 pay.”
The union leader added: “It’s totally wrong for him to be suggesting that we are talking on pay. But it’s very very clear that the Health Secretary has no mandate, he has no authority.
“What needs to happen now is Rishi Sunak needs to come out of hiding, come to the negotiating table with the general secretaries of the unions and deal with this issue.”
Ambulance workers across most of England and Wales took part in one day of strike action in December in a coordinated walkout by the three main unions in the sector, UNISON, GMB and Unite.
The three unions confirmed earlier this month that planned strike action in January would go ahead following talks with Steve Barclay that Unite national lead officer Onay Kasab denounced as an “insult to our members”.
Unite announced last week that its members in the ambulance service will take part in ten further days of strike action in the coming weeks, while GMB members will stage four more walkouts in February and March.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Graham argued that the government was not being an “honest partner” in pay negotiations and described claims that ambulance workers were not meeting minimum safety levels during strikes as “a lie”.
The union leader told viewers: “This employer, being the government, is not interested in doing a deal as far as the NHS is concerned. And I have to say we are concluding now that there must be a much more sinister reason for this, because this level of self-harm is unprecedented.”
Graham said: “I think that they are looking to privatise the NHS. Genuinely, I believe that they are looking as this is the moment they can privatise the NHS.” She highlighted that now Chancellor Jeremy Hunt “was the Health Secretary who wanted the NHS in the American trade deal”.
Thousands of ambulance workers are staging further strikes over pay.
Unite Union General Sec Sharon Graham is calling for the PM to come to the table 'to do a proper deal for workers'
She adds the union 'hasn't been in any talks with the Health Secretary about 2022/23 pay.' pic.twitter.com/lUsjSdidVq
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) January 23, 2023