Further strikes were announced by teachers and nurses in the UK, amid the continued cost-of-living crisis and lengthy disputes over pay.
If progress is not made in negotiations by the end of January, February will see the most widespread strike so far by National Health Service (NHS) nursing staff, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.
The planned strikes follow walkouts in December and January. “We are doing this in a desperate bid to get ministers to rescue the NHS. The only credible solution is to address the tens of thousands of unfilled jobs — patient care is suffering like never before,” RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said on Monday.
Interim Chief Executive Saffron Cordery at NHS Providers, the membership organization for NHS trusts in England, said the strike escalation was “very worrying.”
“We’ve seen how disruptive these strikes can be, and more extensive industrial action is likely to have an even greater impact. Nobody wants this to continue happening,” Cordery noted.
“We understand how frustrated nurses feel, and how they have got into this point: below-inflation pay awards, the cost-of-living crisis, severe staff shortages and increasing workloads have created near-impossible conditions,” she added.
Over the last year, the UK has seen record-high inflation, with the consumer prices index (CPI) rising by 10.7 per cent in November. However, wages have failed to keep up. Salaries for experienced nurses are 20 per cent lower in real terms than in 2010, due to successive below-inflation pay awards, the RCN noted.
Also on Monday, the National Education Union (NEU) announced that its members had voted in overwhelming numbers to take strike action in February and March to demand a fully funded, above-inflation pay rise.
“This dispute can be resolved without recourse to strike action. We are willing to enter into negotiations at any time, any place, but this situation cannot go on,” the union said on Twitter.
A five per cent pay rise offered in July actually equates to a 7 per cent pay cut due to the soaring inflation, the NEU noted. There has also been a decline of more than 20 per cent in real term pay for teachers over the past decade and educators are leaving the profession in their droves, it added.
Since last summer, the UK has been in the grip of a wave of strikes. The government has locked horns with the trade unions, saying the pay rises that unions have demanded are unaffordable, and higher pay would not help fight inflation.
The widespread strikes have dealt a further blow to the UK’s already struggling economy. Transportation and storage fell month-on-month in November (2022), driven to some extent by postal and railway strikes, and in the short term, the strikes pose a risk to growth, a Credit Suisse report said on Friday.
The total direct and indirect cost of the strikes is estimated for at least 1.7 billion pounds ($2 billion) over the eight-month period to January 2023, according to economist Karl Thompson at the Centre for Economics and Business Research.