Sharon Graham also accused the government of ‘putting lives at risk’.
A leading union leader has told Rishi Sunak to “roll up his sleeves” as more NHS staff prepare to go on strike from tomorrow.
Sharon Graham, general secretary of the Unite union, accused the government of a “real abdication of responsibility” and claimed that no one at “any level” was involved in the NHS pay talks.
Tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance staff in England will walk out on Monday, with nurses going on strike again the next day.
Unions and the government are at odds over how to end the strikes after ministers repeatedly signaled they will not budge on their wage demands.
Speaking ahead of the nurses’ and ambulances’ strikes tomorrow, Graham told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg program that he could confirm “categorically” that there were no talks between his union and the government.
Graham said neither Rishi Sunak nor Steve Barclay, the health secretary, were prepared to talk about wages.
“I can categorically tell you that there have been no payment discussions with Rishi Sunak or Steve Barclay regarding this dispute, in any way, shape or form.
“They’ve danced around her bag, they’ve danced around the edges, but they won’t talk about payment.
“To me, that is an abdication of responsibility. [as] the dispute is over salary, so how can they say they are in talks?
Directing his fire at the prime minister, Graham asked, “Why doesn’t Rishi Sunak come to the table?
“Instead of doing sort of press conferences about other things, come to the table and negotiate – roll up your sleeves and negotiate the NHS payment, that’s what’s required.”
In addition to nurses and ambulance workers, Scotland’s civil servants and teachers will also picket on Monday in the dispute over pay and working conditions.
The firefighters also announced last week that they would go on strike for the first time in 20 years, after members of the Firefighters Union (FBU) rejected the wage offer of 5% below inflation last November.
FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack said today that firefighters would return to work in the event of a major incident during the strike.
“If there is a large fire, that is a major incident, and as I say, we have an agreement that allows return to work in certain circumstances.
“That has happened in previous disputes. In fact, a Conservative minister approached me during one such incident and it was agreed to return to work. That has happened in the past, and we have seen it happen in other sectors.
“So we have examples of where we’ve resolved those particular types of threats.”
Nurses who are members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) leave 73 NHS trusts in England on Monday and Tuesday. The strike in Wales has been called off following a new wage offer from the Welsh government.
Unite members will strike four ambulance trusts on Monday, as will GMB members strike eight NHS ambulance trusts.
On February 10, Unison members will take action that will affect some ambulance services.
Ahead of next week’s strikes, Barclay said: “It is unfortunate that the healthcare unions are going ahead with the strike.
“NHS contingency plans are in place, but these coordinated strikes will undoubtedly have an impact on patients and cause delays in NHS services.
“We accept the recommendations of the independent wage review body to give more than 1 million NHS workers, including nurses and ambulance workers, a pay increase of at least £1,400 this financial year, on top of an increase last year. when the salary of the broader public sector was frozen.
“I have had constructive discussions with the unions about what is affordable for 2023/24, and I urge them to call off the strikes and come back to the table.”