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UK braced for biggest day of strike action in a decade

UK braced for biggest day of strike action in a decade

No 10 warns of ‘significant disruption’ to daily lives with teachers and train drivers among up half a million workers walking out
Britain will be hit by strike chaos on Wednesday as civil servants, teachers and train drivers walk out simultaneously in the most significant day of industrial action in a decade.

Downing Street warned the public that the coordinated strikes would cause “significant disruption” as around half a million workers across the public sector stage a walkout over pay, jobs and conditions.

The National Education Union (NEU) expects around 23,000 schools to be affected by strike action across England and Wales, with up to 200,000 members taking to the picket line.

Teachers do not need to give notice to schools over whether they will strike, leaving many headteachers uncertain over which gaps will need to be filled on Wednesday morning. Up to a quarter of schools could be closed in London, according to a survey of teachers.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said school leaders “will not necessarily know who is going to be available for work until the day itself”.

Many councils are posting lists of closures and part closures on their websites to keep parents informed, but others suggested schools would be in touch with parents directly if their school is affected.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, claimed that parents had largely been supportive of strike action as they can see schools “have been run down” and have teacher shortages. The NEU has called for a pay rise above inflation.

He said: “It’s a strike against disruption in education. We want the strike to be effective because we want to concentrate the Government’s mind on solving the issue.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan met the general secretaries of unions representing teachers and headteachers on Monday, but the talks failed to find a resolution.

Some 150 universities will also be affected by strike disruption on Wednesday as lecturers and librarians belonging to the UCU union join the walkout.

Meanwhile, train driver members of Aslef and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will walk out on Wednesday in a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

Industrial action will affect the 14 biggest rail operators in the UK, with most services grinding to a halt.

It comes after unions rejected a recent offer of a 4 per cent pay rise for last year and another 4 per cent this year. Union leaders argued that conditions attached to the proposed deal, such as compulsory Sunday working, were never going to be accepted.

Around 1,900 members of Unite employed as bus drivers by Abellio in London will also walk out on February 1, 2 and 3. Services in the south and west of the capital will be affected.

Up to 100,000 members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) are set to strike across government departments, Border Force, museums and other government agencies.

The PCS is seeking a pay rise of 10 per cent after the government paid 2 per cent, which the union complained was well below the soaring rate of inflation.

Wednesday’s strike action will coincide with a day of protest against the Government’s minimum services legislation, which unions have dubbed an “anti-strike” bill.

Thousands of demonstrators are expected to march through central London on Wednesday afternoon, while the TUC will hand a petition to 10 Downing Street signed by more than 200,000 people opposing the legislation.

Under the plans, employers will be able to serve a “work notice” to staff which will identify the employees required to work to provide a minimum service level during strikes. Notices must be issued at least a week before a strike begins.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “I wish they [the government] would spend as much time trying to resolve the disputes as in attacking the right to strike.”

Downing Street conceded that Wednesday’s mass strike action would be “very difficult”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We know that there will be significant disruption given the scale of the strike action that is taking place tomorrow and that will be very difficult for the public trying to go about their daily lives.

“We are upfront that this will disrupt people’s lives and that’s why we think negotiations rather than picket lines are the right approach.”

Next week will see a large wave of strikes across the NHS, with ambulance workers, physiotherapists and nurses all set to walk out.

Royal College of Nursing (RCN), GMB and Unite members will go on strike on Monday, while the RCN will stage a second day of action on Tuesday.

Unison have announced that thousands of paramedics across five services in England – including London – will strike on February 10.

NHS consultants in England are also gearing up for possible strike action.

The British Medical Association (BMA) – the country’s biggest doctors’ union – is to hold an indicative ballot of its consultant members in February in a dispute over pay and pensions.

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