Teachers, train drivers and civil servants will on Wednesday join the biggest day of strike action in the UK since 2011 as ministers continue to resist unions’ demands to boost public sector pay.
About 150,000 teachers are expected to walk out across England and Wales, affecting more than eight in 10 schools. Commuters will also be stranded, with 12,500 train drivers shutting some lines entirely and leaving just one-third of services running across the network. Roughly 70,000 university lecturers will hold the latest in a series of walkouts.
More than 100,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants, will also strike. Their walkout will affect Whitehall departments, regulators and other agencies, museums and jobcentres — as well as border posts, where military personnel have been drafted in to check passports.
The Trades Union Congress, the voice of the UK’s organised labour movement, called the day of co-ordinated action in protest at new legislation that will in future allow ministers to mandate a minimum service during strikes in key sectors, including transport, health and education.
There is no sign of any move from ministers to resolve the deadlock on pay with unions, which are preparing to increase industrial action unless 2022-23 awards are improved.
For 2022-23, teachers were awarded a pay increase of at least 5 per cent. But teaching unions want above-inflation rises, which they say would “correct” years of real-terms pay cuts.
Meanwhile, the government offered Border Force staff a 2 per cent pay increase for 2022-23, but the PCS has called for a rise of 10 per cent.
Health secretary Steve Barclay on Tuesday said the government was “engaging with trade union colleagues” in an effort to resolve the dispute in the health service.
“We recognise that the NHS has been under huge pressure through the pandemic,” he told the House of Commons health and social care select committee, adding that ministers “wanted to have discussions . . . in the context of this coming year’s pay review body”.
But Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said the government was doing “precisely nothing” to end the stand-off, after MPs heard the health department had missed a deadline to submit evidence to the pay review body, to inform its recommendations for pay in 2023-24.
“Rishi Sunak wants the public to believe ministers are doing all they can to resolve the dispute. They’re not. There are no pay talks and the prime minister must stop trying to hoodwink the public,” she said.
Unison on Tuesday said its members at five ambulance trusts in England would hold a fourth walkout on February 10 — compounding a week of strikes already set to be the biggest in the history of the NHS.
Four other unions are organising action by ambulance staff, nurses and physiotherapists, with health service leaders warning that they risk causing “serious and profound” long-term damage.
Meanwhile, the RMT and TSSA rail unions are considering offers from rail employers, as the industry seeks to end months of damaging strikes.
But Simon Weller, assistant general secretary at train drivers’ union Aslef, said relations with train operators had gone “backwards” since it rejected earlier this month the offer of an 8 per cent pay rise over two years, tied to significant reforms.
“Train drivers had a fairly hard line before they saw the offer. That has now hardened,” he said, adding that even with “no strings attached”, an 8 per cent pay rise would not settle the dispute.
The Rail Delivery Group, which speaks for train operators, said the offer was “fair” and would take an average driver’s salary to £65,000.
Downing Street warned the scale of the strike action meant there would be “significant disruption” on Wednesday, adding: “That will be very difficult for the public trying to go about their daily lives.”
It said that although the government wanted unions to reconsider their approach and continue talks, Cabinet Office secretary Oliver Dowden was carrying out “significant planning work”, including contingency planning for walkouts by firefighters.
Downing Street added that 600 military personnel who stood in during strikes over Christmas remained on standby for the next round of industrial action.
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