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Hospital consultants are stepping up their plans for strikes as rail workers prepare to walk out again, in moves that highlight how the UK continues to contend with industrial action over pay.
Consultants who are members of the British Medical Association will be striking in England this week for the first time in over a decade, shortly after junior doctors end an unprecedented five-day walkout.
As well as strikes by consultants scheduled for Thursday and Friday, the BMA said on Monday they would also walk out for two days on August 24 and 25, in protest at the government’s “derisory” pay offer.
In an effort to halt public sector worker strikes over pay, Rishi Sunak last week unveiled his “final” offer on wages in England for 2023-24, including a proposed 6 per cent increase for consultants, and 6 per cent for junior doctors, plus an additional £1,250 consolidated into their base pay.
But the BMA said the prime minister had missed the chance to put a serious deal on the table, adding it would continue with industrial action.
The BMA has been demanding a 35 per cent pay increase for junior doctors to make up for what it describes as 15 years of wage erosion. It has sought a “credible” pay offer from the government for consultants who, the BMA says, have experienced similar real-terms wage cuts to junior doctors.
The latest industrial action by junior doctors is due to end on Tuesday. Consultants have committed to so-called Christmas Day cover when they strike, meaning they will continue to provide emergency services but not routine ones.
Strikes by NHS workers since December last year have caused severe disruption with more than 600,000 hospital appointments and procedures having been delayed or cancelled in England.
Philip Banfield, BMA council chair, said given the length of NHS waiting lists, underfunding and the number of doctors being offered higher-paying jobs in Australia, it was irresponsible of the government to offer pay increases below the rate of inflation. Consumer price inflation stood at 8.7 per cent in May.
Vishal Sharma, BMA consultants committee chair, said: “This ‘final offer’ and flat refusal to engage in further talks has left us with no option but to continue our action.
“We have therefore announced further strike dates in August . . . the government must also understand that we will continue to stand up for consultants and, if necessary, are in this for the long haul.”
John Glen, Treasury chief secretary, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph the BMA demand for a 35 per cent pay increase was “unaffordable” and would fuel inflation.
He said: “Some perspective is badly needed. In their first year of training, junior doctors are already in the top third of UK earners . . .
“Many junior doctors . . . go on to become consultants, who rank among the top three per cent of earners in the UK with salaries averaging around £130,000 a year.”
Economists at the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank have argued there is a negligible correlation between public sector pay rises and inflation.
Meanwhile, rail unions are planning fresh industrial action, with no sign of a deal to end a year long dispute with train operators.
The RMT union will unleash widespread disruption for rail passengers when its members walk out at 14 train operating companies on Thursday and Saturday in its dispute over pay, working conditions and possible job losses.
Train drivers’ union Aslef is imposing an overtime ban across 14 operators from Monday to Saturday.
The two unions have rejected operators’ pay proposals: 9 per cent over two years for RMT members and 8 per cent for train drivers, tied to reforms to working practices.