Photography: Guy Bell/Rex/Shutterstock
Steve Barclay will be accused of wasting taxpayers’ money pursuing the striking nurses through the courts when the government tries on Thursday to curtail their industrial action which is due to start on Sunday evening.
In testimony to be heard in the high court, Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, will say the health and social care secretary is seeking to “wear out” nurses through legal action.
Barclay will say the Tuesday nurses strike planned between 8pm April 30 and 8pm May 2 is illegal and should not go ahead.
The country’s largest nursing union secured support for the strikes with a vote of its members on Nov. 2. The union has six months to initiate industrial action and the government claims the second day of the planned strike is not within the mandate.
According to testimony seen by the Guardian, Cullen will say the government is relying on a lack of clarity in the legislation to bully the striking nurses.
“This question is part of a clear strategy by the secretary of state to undermine the RCN [Royal College of Nursing] and wear down its members in the union dispute,” he said in his statement.
“In doing so, the secretary of state is relying on oppressive legislation introduced by the Conservative government and designed to limit the ability of trade unions to call on their members to take industrial action.”
He adds: ‘There is a solution to this trade dispute, which requires the Secretary of State to speak to the RCN in the negotiating room, rather than using taxpayers’ money to futilely fight the RCN in court.’
Barclay said he had no choice but to go to court, arguing the government “cannot stand by” and let an “illegal” strike go ahead.
Cullen will say in his statement that he finds it “significant” that none of the NHS employers were willing to challenge nurses’ right to strike, but that the action was taken on behalf of the health secretary.
He will say: “This is because employers deeply recognize and understand the RCN campaign and because the restoration of pay is not only desirable but in fact necessary to avoid a health crisis.
“Out of a six-month mandate, no single employer has seen more than four days of strike to date, while so far only six days have taken place in total. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State has undoubtedly observed the passage of time regarding the 6-month period during which the vote was valid.
The government had initially sought an injunction to block the entire May Day strike programme, but decided to limit the scope of its legal action.
Cullen will not appear in court on Thursday but will join a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London. In an email to 28,000 RCN members he admitted the government could succeed in his high court request.
“We expect ministers to be able to bring their full weight to bear and if they win, we will let you know that the strike ends at midnight on Monday (May 1) and not the following evening,” he wrote.