Britain hit by biggest day of strikes in a decade as pay disputes escalate


Up to half a million workers are amazing in Britain on Wednesday, closing schools, canceling university lectures and paralyzing most of the rail network in what unions say will be the biggest day of strikes in more than a decade.

Teachers, university staff, train drivers and civil servants, including airport passport checkers, are on strike in large numbers over wages and working conditions as living standards continue to fall after years of below-inflation increases.

At the same time, the Trades Union Congress, which represents 48 unions, is organizing more than 75 rallies across the UK to protest against a government bill which he argues is an “attack” on the right to strike. The bill would require basic service levels to be maintained in the fire, ambulance and train sectors in the event of strikes.

The escalation of the strike comes just weeks after the government tried to resolve wage disputes to end the worst wave of industrial unrest the country has seen in decades. Many public sector workers have been offered raises of 4 or 5% for the current year, with an annual inflation rate of 10.5%.

Up to 300,000 Teachers are expected to go on strike on Wednesday, marking the first of seven days of strike action in February and March by the National Education Union, the largest union in the sector. The strikes will affect some 23,400 schools, around 85%, in England and Wales, with many closing in whole or in part.

Wednesday also marks the start of strikes by 70,000 University and College Union (UCU) members, which will affect 150 UK universities over 18 days in February and March, affecting 2.5 million students.

Meanwhile, more than 100,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents civil servants, will strike for wages, pensions and job security in 123 government departments and agencies.

And only about 30% of train services are expected to run on Wednesday, according to British rail company Rail Delivery Group, which warned in a statement on its website that the disruption could drag on for the rest of the week because many trains are not they will do it. be in the correct deposits.

The strikes will hurt already slow economic growth. The UK is likely to be the only major economy to fall into recession this year, after posting one of the strongest growth rates among advanced economies last year, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The IMF has marginally updated its global growth forecast, thanks to the reopening of China and an improvement in financial conditions as inflation begins to ease.

In Britain, however, the fund has turned more bearish.

Research director Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas said this was due to higher energy prices, lower productivity as a result of employment failing to recover to its pre-pandemic level, and elevated inflation that led to rates higher interest and mortgage costs.

The IMF expects inflation to remain above 8% in the UK this year, compared with a rate of 4.6% in advanced economies and 6.6% globally. He sees the UK economy contracting 0.6% in 2023, down 0.9 percentage points from his October forecast.

An economic slowdown and persistent inflation will worsen the cost-of-living crisis affecting thousands of workers as wages fail to keep up with rising prices.

The 5% average pay increase for teachers this year is inadequate, particularly as it follows a decade of “pay erosion” that is leading to a “hiring and retention crisis,” NEU Assistant Secretary General Niamh told CNN. Sweeny.

According to the union, the salary of experienced teachers has been reduced by 23% since 2010 once inflation is taken into account. Support staff like teaching assistants have seen wages drop 27% in real terms over that period, and some may earn more working at their local grocery store than in education, according to Sweeny.

A Department of Education spokesman responded: “The strike is very damaging to children’s education, particularly after the disruption children have experienced in the past two years.”

Sian Elliott, senior policy officer at the Trades Union Congress, told CNN the solution to the strike wave was simple: “All it takes to resolve the current disputes is simply to offer an improved wage deal.”

However, instead of resolving the pay disputes, the government has “rushed” an anti-strike bill through parliament without proper scrutiny or an impact assessment, it added.

In a sign that industrial unrest could escalate further, UK firefighters voted to strike for the first time since 2003. The Fire Brigades Union has given the government until February 9 to make a pay offer. improved.

Nurses and ambulance drivers will start a new wave of strikes next week.

— Olesya Dmitracova contributed to this reporting.

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