The largest coordinated action by UK public sector workers in over a decade took place on February 1st, with up to half a million workers, including school teachers, university lecturers, civil servants, rail staff, bus drivers, and border force staff at ports and airports, staging a strike.
The action resulted in the disruption of over 23,000 schools and cancellation of two-thirds of train services. Further walkouts are planned in the coming weeks, with firefighters and NHS workers joining picket lines.
A report by the Trades Union Congress found that the average public sector worker is £203 per month worse off than in 2010, due to below-inflation pay. Other factors contributing to the strikes include job security, pensions, and changes to terms and conditions.
Union demands for significant pay increases have been rejected by the government, citing potential consequences such as higher taxes or more borrowing, as well as increased inflation. Despite this, rallies are being held across the country in protest of a government bill demanding minimum service levels in key sectors during industrial action. The bill cleared the commons last night by a majority of 69 and will now be scrutinized by the Lords.
Unions have stated their opposition to the bill, claiming it could lead to the termination of workers who legally vote to strike. The government has not released an impact assessment of the bill, which unions argue will make strikes last longer and exacerbate problems rather than solve them.
As the UK enters February, tensions between the government and public sector workers show little sign of subsiding, with the government remaining resolute on bringing inflation down, while workers struggle to make ends meet.