The chairman of the Conservative Party has claimed NHS nurses going on strike is “exactly what Putin wants to see”.
Up to 100,000 nurses are set to take industrial action on December 15 and 20 in a dispute over pay and conditions.
Speaking to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg programme on Sunday, Nadhim Zahawi rejected their demands and attempted to link it to the war in Ukraine.
“Coming up to Christmas it’s unfair, in my view, for the unions to really damage and disrupt people’s lives and livelihoods,” he said.
“They should really rethink and they should reflect on this. That’s exactly what Putin wants to see - that division. Let’s not divide, let’s come together.”
RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen, said: “Using Russia’s war in Ukraine as a justification for a real-terms pay cut for nurses in the UK is a new low for this government.
“The public does not believe this kind of rhetoric and wants ministers to address our dispute.
“Nursing staff cannot afford their food and other bills and still fear the worst on energy this winter.”
Lib Dem Cabinet Office spokesperson Christine Jardine branded Zahawi “ludicrous and insulting” for suggesting Putin was responsible for nurses going on strike.
“The responsibility lies firmly with this Conservative government’s shambolic failure to find a solution,” she said.
“Conservative ministers wasted billions of taxpayers’ money on dodgy PPE contracts and now are refusing to offer a fair pay rise to nurses.
“It is a clear demonstration of how out of touch Zahawi and this Conservative government really are.”
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is calling for a pay rise of 5% above RPI inflation.- which currently stands at about 14%.
It has previously said that despite this year’s pay award of £1,400, experienced nurses are worse off by 20% in real terms due to successive below-inflation awards since 2010.
During the strikes, chemotherapy, dialysis and critical care units such as intensive care and neonatal and paediatric intensive care will be protected.
But other services will be reduced to Christmas day or night duty levels, the union said.
The country is facing a wave of strikes over the Christmas period, affecting trains, buses, roads, postal deliveries and education.