Strikes: would Labour give workers pay rises? What Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves said about industrial action

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Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves told a business conference in London that the Tories were to blame for the strikes - and that Labour would battle harsher legislation on industrial action “every step of the way”.

The Labour Party said strikes would not be happening under its government - but refused to confirm whether or not it would give nurses and rail workers the pay rises they are demanding.

Speaking at a business conference in London this morning (8 December), leader Sir Keir Starmer insisted he did not want the strikes to continue - but said he understood why industrial action is taking place as workers are “facing a very real cost of living crisis [and] struggling to pay their bills.”

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He would not confirm what offer nurses would receive from Labour, instead arguing that his party would deal with strikes by “resolving the underlying issues” and “getting around the negotiating table with unions”. He argued this would come in contrast to Rishi Sunak’s administration, who he urged to “stop grandstanding and start governing.”

Likewise, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves accused the Tories of treating public sector workers with a “lack of respect” and “sitting on [their] hands” when it came to strike action. But pressed on whether Labour would give nurses a 19% pay rise, she told reporters: “I’ve always said Labour will not pluck numbers out of the air. Everything in our manifesto will be fully costed and fully funded.”

Sir Keir Starmer told Labour’s business conference at Canary Wharf, London that he would deal with strikes by “resolving the underlying issues”. Credit: PASir Keir Starmer told Labour’s business conference at Canary Wharf, London that he would deal with strikes by “resolving the underlying issues”. Credit: PA
Sir Keir Starmer told Labour’s business conference at Canary Wharf, London that he would deal with strikes by “resolving the underlying issues”. Credit: PA | PA

It comes as widespread industrial action continues to take over the country, with nurses, ambulance workers, rail staff and Royal Mail employees all committing to strikes over the coming weeks.

The government has thus far refused to give workers the pay offer they are asking for, and has set out new laws which would ensure rail companies must maintain minimum service levels on the transport network during walkouts. MPs are also reportedly considering even tougher measures for emergency service workers, which would restrict their ability to strike.

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Nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will strike on 15 and 20 December. Credit: Getty ImagesNurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will strike on 15 and 20 December. Credit: Getty Images
Nurses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland will strike on 15 and 20 December. Credit: Getty Images | AFP via Getty Images

When asked about the minimum service level legislation, Reeves said Labour would “fight it every step of the way”. She explained: “The reason that we didn’t have strikes under the last Labour Party government is because… Labour treated key workers with respect and got around the negotiating table. This government has been sitting on its hands for five months, [so] people have got no one to blame but the government for this industrial action.”

The Shadow Chancellor also rejected the suggestion that Labour repealing the 2016 Trade Union Act and potentially making it easier for unions to ballot on strikes, which it has said it would do, would lead to more industrial action. She said: “Any government would be hard pressed to create any more chaos than what you’re getting under the Conservatives today. The reason we’ve got chaos under the Conservatives is they’re unwilling to sit down and work with our key workers.”

She argued then that the government “needs to be doing more to avert the further industrial action”, both on railways and in hospitals - highlighting how the Royal College of Nursing was taking its first industrial action in history. Downing Street has denied it is trying to worsen relations with the unions by threatening to introduce stricter laws on strikes.

Rachel Reeves at Labour’s business conference at Canary Wharf, London. Credit: PARachel Reeves at Labour’s business conference at Canary Wharf, London. Credit: PA
Rachel Reeves at Labour’s business conference at Canary Wharf, London. Credit: PA | PA

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said: “What we are looking to do is to keep people safe and keep the country moving. Those are our aims, we’re not looking to worsen our relations with any group. We believe we’ve acted reasonably when it comes to both agreeing the payoff as recommended by the independent boards and in facilitating the discussions we need to reach some sort of resolution.

“Given what we’re seeing and the need to protect people from inflation we must also go further and consider further powers to try and mitigate against some of the disruption.”

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