Nearly half a million UK workers set for mass strike demanding higher pay

Royal College of Nursing members on strike outside University College London hospital in London, on January 18.

Close to half a million workers are ready to strike on a single day as Britain faces an escalation of industrial action across a number of sectors.

Unions representing civil servants, teachers, university staff and train drivers have said their members will walk out on Feb. 1 as part of demands for higher pay to cope with the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

About 450,000 workers have a mandate to strike, according to Bloomberg calculations. If all the union members took up their right, the day’s industrial action would come close to matching every walkout throughout the whole of November.

The Office for National Statistics said this week that 467,000 working days were lost to strikes in November—itself a 10-year high.

Nearly 100,000 civil servants said last week they would strike on February 1 as part of a dispute over pay, disrupting various corners of the public sector including driving tests, passport applications and welfare payments. Unions representing other workers have subsequently picked the same day for their own industrial action.

Labor groups are also planning widespread protests on the day, rallying against government plans to impose minimum service levels during strikes.

Ambulance workers strike

Ambulance workers announced a wave of extra strike dates Wednesday as nurses protested on picket lines in the latest dispute over pay levels in Britain’s National Health Service.

The GMB union said more than 10,000 members across much of England and Wales would walk out on February 6 and 20 and March 6 and 20. Ambulance workers in the West Midlands will strike on January 23 and those in the northwest on January 24.

Ambulance workers were already due to strike again next week having done so in December and earlier in January.

Unions representing NHS workers accuse the government of imposing years of real-terms pay cuts, resulting in mass vacancies that endanger patients. Ministers point to extra money earmarked for health services and say this year’s pay rise was determined by an independent review body.

“The only way to solve this dispute is a proper pay offer,” said Rachel Harrison, the GMB’s general secretary. “But it seems the cold, dead hands of the Number 10 and 11 Downing Street are stopping this from happening.”

Nurses said Wednesday that people are dying unnecessarily in the beleaguered NHS as they kicked off another day of strikes.

The Royal College of Nursing staged it latest walkouts across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Health Secretary Steve Barclay warning that the industrial action will hurt patients.

However, Pat Cullen, the union’s general secretary, said: “People aren’t dying because nurses are striking. Nurses are striking because people are dying.”

Barclay said Tuesday that around 30,000 appointments had been canceled due to the previous two days of nurses’ strikes in December.

Meanwhile, Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt said the best way to help workers was to bring down inflation. The government has repeatedly argued that generous raises would risk a wage-price spiral.

“Today’s figures show there is no room for any deviation from our central objective of the year to halve inflation, so we deal with the anger of public sector workers,” Hunt said after the rate of price increases dipped for a second month but remained at 10.5 percent.

Inflation must be tackled so that workers “can see an end to this very insidious erosion of their pay packets,” the chancellor added.

The RCN has announced further walkouts on February 6-7 that will affect 73 NHS trusts, compared to 55 Wednesday. The strikes next month will not take place in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Pay talks

Strikes are building up across the NHS with ambulance workers due to protest again next week and junior doctors balloting for action, as workers reject pay rises which fail to keep up with inflation.

Unions are keen to talk about their pay package this year and although there was some indication from the government this could happen, Barclay stressed the government’s original position negotiations should deal with next year’s pay.

“I have had constructive talks with the Royal College of Nursing and other unions about the 2023-2024 pay process and look forward to continuing that dialogue,” Barclay said.

Image credits: Bloomberg


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