In what has emerged as Britain’s largest coordinated strike action in a generation, up to half a million teachers, civil servants, train drivers and university lecturers walked out of their places of work on Wednesday over pay and conditions. The strike resulted in the shutting down of schools across Britain, halting most rail services in the region.
Mary Bousted, General Secretary of National Education Union, told Reuters that teachers in her union felt they had no choice but to strike as declining pay meant high numbers were leaving the profession, making it harder for those that remain.
“There has been over the last 12 years a really catastrophic long term decline in their pay,” she said outside a school in south London.
“None of the people behind me want to be on strike today but they are saying, very reluctantly, that enough is enough and that things have to change.”
United Kingdom is the only big economy heading for recession, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on January 30. The IMF growth forecast for the UK (-0.5 per cent) is less than Germany (0 per cent), Italy (0.1 per cent), France (0.9 per cent), the US (1.0 per cent), Canada (1.2 per cent) and the world at-large (3.2 per cent).
The UK inflation is running at more than 10 per cent the highest in four decades. Britain has seen a wave of strikes in recent months across different sectors, including health and transport workers, Amazon warehouse employees and Royal Mail postal staff.
Education minister Gillian Keegan stuck to the government’s position on Wednesday.
“What we cannot do is give inflation busting pay rises to one part of the workforce and make inflation worse for everybody. That’s not an economically sensible thing to do,” she told the BBC.
So far the economy has not taken a major hit from the industrial action with the cost of the strikes in the eight months to January estimated by consultancy firm the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) at about 1.7 billion pounds ($2.09 billion), or about 0.1 per cent of the expected GDP.
But the strikes are hurting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government politically. His Conservative Party trail the opposition Labour Party by some 25 percentage points in polls and surveys indicate the public think the government have handled the strikes badly.
Also on strike on Wednesday are 100,000 civil servants from more than 120 government departments, and tens of thousands of university lecturers and rail workers.
There are also rallies planned for later in the day to protest against a new law to curb strikes in some sectors.
Next week, nurses, ambulance staff, paramedics, emergency call handlers and other healthcare workers are set to stage more walkouts.
(With inputs from agencies)
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