The government has been accused of ‘unrealistic game-playing’ by the director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association Union (PDAU), Paul Day, who said that a focus on future pay settlements ignores current disputes around NHS pay.

This comes after Mr Day told The Pharmacist that the PDAU would challenge any further legislation restricting worker’s rights to strike, as it reviews its own member survey regarding potential action.

In a statement from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), issued yesterday, the government said that it would invite trade unions to meet ‘for honest, constructive conversations about what is fair and affordable in public sector pay settlements for 2023-24, as part of a reasonable approach to avoiding prolonged industrial action.’

In response, the PDAU director told The Pharmacist that ‘the statement from government tries to ignore the current dispute and start talking about next cycle of pay review instead’, calling it ‘unrealistic game-playing’.

He added: ‘For the NHS to be able to recruit and retain enough staff, today’s pay rates still need to be urgently increased.

‘Our members, like all NHS workers and their families also need to deal with the cost of living crisis.’

In December, the PDAU announced that it was surveying its 7,000+ members directly employed in the NHS on Agenda for Change terms and conditions in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland  to see whether there was enough strength of feeling to pursue a formal strike ballot.

Mr Day said that the survey, which closed on 3 January, had ‘the highest response to a survey of this sort in the history of the PDAU’.

He said that the responses were now being analysed in detail and would be reported to the PDA Union National Executive Committee (NEC) in January, who would decide whether to authorise any formal industrial action ballot.

He added that a formal ballot would require at least 50% of PDA members to participate in the vote and at least 40% of the members balloted to vote ‘yes’, as well as a majority vote, in order for industrial action to be lawfully taken.

‘Although we believe these existing restrictions are unfair, bureaucratic, and designed to make exercising the right to take industrial action difficult, it is not an option for the PDA Union to ignore the legislation,’ he said.

Striking a 'fundamental' right

The union director also told The Pharmacist that the PDAU, alongside other trade unions, would oppose any proposed anti-strike legislation.

Earlier this week, The Times reported that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was considering bringing anti-strike legislation to a parliamentary vote, including giving employers the right to sue unions and sack striking workers.

‘With regard to the potential for even more restrictions on the ability for pharmacists to decide to take industrial action, we expect all trade unions, including ourselves to challenge such proposals,’ Mr Day told The Pharmacist earlier today.

He added that the PDA welcomed opposition leader Kier Starmer’s comment this week that a Labour government would repeal restrictive laws.

‘The right for working people, including pharmacists, to form independent trade unions and to take industrial action, including strikes, is a fundamental aspect of living in a fair and free civilised society,’ Mr Day said.

Yesterday afternoon the government announced that it would legislate for minimum safety levels for fire, ambulance and rail services during industrial action.

For other sectors including health services, the government said that it expected to continue to reach voluntary agreements but would look to set minimum safety levels should these voluntary positions not be agreed.

Where minimum safety levels are set in law, trade unions will be bound to abide by them and would risk the employer bringing an injunction to prevent the strike from taking place or seeking damages afterwards if they are not met.

Trade unions will fight 'attack on the right to strike'

Paul Novak, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), described the government's announcement yesterday as 'an attack on the right to strike'.

'It means that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t. That’s wrong, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal,' he said in a statement shared by the PDA.

He added that the announcement 'offers nothing more to help with this year’s pay and the cost of living crisis', saying 'there is a world of difference between promises of jam tomorrow with technical discussions about pay review bodies, and proper negotiations on pay in the here and now'.

He added: 'Our public services are already deep in a staffing crisis. But this government has gone from clapping key workers to threatening them with the sack if they take lawful action for a pay rise. It will only push more people away from essential jobs in public services, harming the whole nation.'

The TUC, the largest national centre for independent trade unions in Great Britain, said that the proposed legislation would make it harder for disputes to be resolved and that the government should engage in current negotiations around public sector pay.

PDAU director Paul Day said that the PDA would fight the proposed strike restrictions 'every step of the way'.

'We’re inviting every worker – public and private sector, and everyone who wants to protect British liberties – to be a part of our campaign to defend the right to strike,' he said.