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PM Sunak’s failure to negotiate on strikes sabotaging UK, Labour warns

Empty tables outside a restaurant in the UK are shown as pubs and restaurants are hit with a 30% downturn in bookings as train strikes hit footfall.

The UK economy faces a “massive hit” in 2023 since prime minister Rishi Sunak has refused to negotiate with unions to put an end to widespread industrial actions across the country, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has said.

Reeves stressed that “the Tories’ approach is increasingly reckless in allowing these strikes to continue with no effort to resolve them.”

“Sitting on the sidelines is now just another way in which the Tories are sabotaging the UK economy,” she added.

The economic crisis across the UK has prompted various groups in the society to take industrial action, going on strike for higher wages to cover the soaring inflation, which has risen above an unprecedented level of 11 percent.

This week will see five consecutive days of shutdowns on the rail system but ministers appear to have “given up” on governing altogether and are instead seeking confrontation with the unions for political reasons, she added.

“These disputes will be resolved only by negotiating fair pay deals with compromise from all sides. The government has refused to resolve disputes, because the Tory party is so hopelessly divided on everything else that confronting trade unions is the only thing left to unite their MPs,” Reeves said.

The shadow chancellor's scathing remarks came on the heels of Sunak's New Year message, in which he was at pains to acknowledge that it had been a difficult year for the UK, warning Britons that the problems bedeviling the country won’t disappear in 2023.

Sunak laid the responsibility of the UK’s worsening economic situation on the pandemic and Ukrainian war and said: “This has had a profound economic impact around the world, which the UK is not immune to.”

Meanwhile, the Labour Party, which has been out of government for more than 12 years, is well ahead in opinion polls following the chaotic year under the Conservatives' leadership. Party sources say that if and when Labour comes to power there will be a “reset” to ensure that public sector pay keeps pace with inflation and that vocational jobs such as nursing are truly valued.

Referring to Conservatives’ failure in national politics and economy, Opposition Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, said on Saturday Labour will attempt to build a “new Britain” that will fix struggling public services and “grow the economy for everyone.”

However, a Conservative spokesperson hit back at Starmer's comments saying that “the Labour party continuously fails to put forward a credible plan to tackle the issues we face. We are doing all we can to mitigate the impact but Labour should call on union bosses to be reasonable, stay around the negotiating table and call off these damaging strikes.”

Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said strikes would be a disaster for firms that rely on extra takings in the festive season to see them through January and February.

“Getting people to negotiate has to be the top priority,” she said, adding that: “Where this can’t happen, a basic level of service must be maintained to allow the wider business community to continue to operate.”

Business leaders are also concerned about huge additional damage to the economy if strikes continue, warning that businesses are being hammered.

“Businesses across the UK, and especially those in the capital, are being hammered by these bouts of strikes. Many of the hardest hits are small firms which employ the majority of people across the country,” said Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

From nurses to teachers, and to railway employees, British workers in various sectors have been staging back-to-back walkouts in the last few months, as the cost-of-living crisis is simmering across the country.

As a result of these strikes, the British people are facing postponed hospital appointments, canceled trains, and travel delays during the winter holiday season.

Ministers have said they have accepted the recommendations of the NHS pay review body, but there was not a “bottomless pit” of money to meet union demands.

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