The UK is facing widespread strike action that has closed or partially closed more than half of schools across England and Wales. The strikes are being led by teachers, university staff, rail workers, and civil servants who are demanding better pay. The government and the unions appear to be at odds with each other, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak calling on Labour to condemn the teachers’ strikes as “wrong”.
A recent survey of 948 schools found that 920 were affected by the strikes, with 35% of schools reporting that more than half of their teachers were on strike. Despite this, the Department of Education stressed that 90% of state schools in England remained open.
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan stated that “one school closure is too many” and called the strikes deeply disappointing. However, a recent poll by Savanta showed that 58% of parents supported the teachers’ strike, with 50% of the overall population backing the teachers as well. The National Education Union’s leaders, Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, described the strike as “a huge statement from a determined membership” and urged Keegan to “step up with concrete and meaningful proposals” to halt their next planned strike action on February 28th. The Public and Commercial Services Union’s general secretary, Mark Serwotka, also expressed disappointment in the government’s lack of action, stating that the strike is bound to grow unless something changes.
Health unions are also frustrated by the government’s unwillingness to enter into serious discussions. The government blames the unions for the standoff, while the health unions claim that it is the government that needs to make a fresh offer, specifically on pay. Despite the tough line taken by Sunak, the rail unions RMT and Aslef are holding two days of strike action, causing widespread disruption to train travel.
It’s going to be a challenging start to the year for the UK unless fresh talks bring a much-needed resolution across the board, but with the government and the unions appearing to be at odds and the public opinion appearing to be divided the outlook doesn’t look great.
The focus will now shift to the NHS, with more days of industrial action taking place, starting with strikes by nurses and ambulance workers today.