Striking junior doctors, civil servants and teachers attend a rally at Trafalgar Square in London. Image Credit: Bloomberg

LONDON: The UK government and teaching unions on Friday agreed to hold “intensive talks”, a day after health unions said they had reached a deal on pay following a string of damaging strikes.

The talks - amid a cost of living crisis that has seen inflation top 11 per cent last October - would focus on “pay, conditions and workload reduction”, according to a joint statement by the government and unions.

Workers across the British economy from dock workers to ambulance staff have joined the wave of industrial action which began last year.

“The Education Secretary and all unions will meet today (Friday), beginning intensive talks, which will continue over the weekend,” the joint statement said.

The talks would include the National Education Union (NEU) whose members staged two walkouts in England this week.

The announcement followed a breakthrough in the standoff between the government and health workers.

Unions representing staff in England including nurses said on Thursday they had agreed a deal to increase pay by 5 percent in the next financial year.

The package, impacting around one million National Health Service (NHS) staff, will also include a further 2.0 percent rise to this year’s salaries and a one-off bonus worth at least #1,250 ($1,510) per person.

It follows months of unprecedented industrial action by nurses, paramedics, emergency call handlers, midwives and others, which was paused to allow for two weeks of formal negotiations with ministers.

Staff have taken to picket lines in protest over low wages that have been hit by decades-high inflation.

The British Medical Association (BMA) which represents junior doctors, meanwhile, said they had exchanged letters with the government following their own three-day stoppage earlier this week.

“Our position has been that we are open to talk in good faith, meaningfully, at any time,” Dr Vivek Trivedi, co-chair of the BMA’s junior doctors committee, told BBC radio.

“So far we haven’t arranged a time for this afternoon but there has been some correspondence between our offices so it does look like we’ll be able to set something up in the near future.”

The NEU teaching union said no further strikes would be announced in order for the talks to begin.

But the civil servants’ PCS union said it was escalating its own industrial action with a five-week strike by its members working in the Passport Office.

“In sharp contrast with other parts of the public sector, ministers have failed to hold any meaningful talks with us, despite two massive strikes and sustained, targeted action lasting six months,” said PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka.

“They seem to think if they ignore our members, they’ll go away. But how can our members ignore the cost-of-living crisis when 40,000 civil servants are using foodbanks and 45,000 of them are claiming the benefits they administer themselves?” he added.