Nurse strikes a 'badge of shame' for government as walkouts escalate

Rail workers, Royal Mail employees and driving examiners are all staging industrial action on Wednesday

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A strike by nurses is a “badge of shame” for Rishi Sunak's government, the leader of the opposition Keir Starmer has said.

Mr Starmer urged Mr Sunak to negotiate with nurses over pay on the eve of the industrial action, after accusing the Prime Minister of entering “hibernation” rather than working to stop the profession's first ever nationwide strike on Thursday.

“Nurses going on strike is a badge of shame for this government.," the Labour leader said. "Instead of showing leadership, he is playing games with people's health and there is a human cost.

“After 12 years of Tory failure, winter has arrived for our public services, and we've got a Prime Minister who has curled up in a ball and gone into hibernation."

The Prime Minister insisted the government was standing by the offers recommended by the independent pay review body and claimed the strikes were “Labour's nightmare before Christmas” because of the party's links with the unions.

Strikes are escalating across the UK with walkouts maximising disruption in the run-up to Christmas.

Rail workers, Royal Mail employees and driving examiners all staged industrial action on Wednesday in their fight for higher pay amid high inflation.

Nurses are set to strike on Thursday and again on December 20, for 12 hours at a time.

Rail workers, bus drivers, baggage handlers, motorway workers and driving examiners will all walk out on Friday.

Data released on Wednesday showed the rate of consumer price rises is slowing, with inflation at 10.7 per cent in November.

That represents a small fall from October, when the rate was 11.1 per cent.

Train strikes and freezing weather have left London’s business districts deserted this week as thousands of financial professionals have chosen to work from home.

Office occupancy plunged to 19 per cent in the UK capital on Monday, sharply down from 33 per cent a week earlier, said workplace data tracker Freespace. It is expected to remain low due to the continuing train strikes.

“Restaurants, bars and hotels are tearing their hair out over no-shows and cancellations,” said Tina McKenzie, policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses.

“Small firms want a rapid resolution to the situation, with all parties reaching an agreement to keep the economy on track and people’s livelihoods afloat.”

The UK government has insisted it cannot afford to give public sector workers pay rises that keep pace with inflation.

It will hold a second Cobra committee meeting this week about how to address the crisis.

UK rail strikes cause disruption for millions amid cold snap — in pictures

It already plans to bring in the military and civil servants to minimise disruption.

Passport checks at various UK airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Birmingham, will be disrupted by walkouts from December 23 to December 26 and from December 28 to December 31.

The military and civil servants are being brought in to cover for Border Force staff, while Armed Forces personnel will also be sent to hospital trusts before ambulance workers strike on December 21.

The RMT, which has already staged several strikes since the summer, plans further action over Christmas and in early January.

Earlier this week its members rejected a 9 per cent pay offer over two years from Network Rail, the owner of Britain's railway infrastructure.

The rail strikes are opposed by half of Britons, according to polling data from Kantar.

Train workers enjoy less public support than other workers, with most sympathy directed towards nurses, ambulance staff and firefighters.

Figures released by researcher Savanta ComRes also showed that 56 per cent of the public say railway workers should not strike during the holiday period, with support slipping eight points since October.

The nursing union has been urged to do more to “avoid patient harm” and “alleviate unnecessary distress” for dying patients on strike days by the UK's four chief nurses and the NHS's head of cancer care.

Dame Cally Palmer, the national cancer director for NHS England, urged RCN general secretary Pat Cullen to protect “life-saving” and “urgent” cancer operations.

The RCN has insisted that “cancer patients will get emergency and clinically urgent surgery, saying it is not in doubt”.

“This is a politically-motivated smear from a government that is failing cancer patients,” a representative of the union said.

The RCN said on Tuesday that it had agreed further exemptions to the strike action, including emergency cancer services and “front-door” urgent care assessment and admission units for paediatric-only A&E departments.

“The safety of patients is everybody's top concern,” the union said.

Around 115,000 members of the Communication Workers Union are staging action at the postal service’s busiest time of year, which is having a “knock-on effect” on other delivery companies.

Strikes across the UK — in pictures

Parcel company DPD Group told the BBC: “We are experiencing short delays to our next-day delivery service in a small number of locations as a result of the industrial action at the Royal Mail, which has had a huge knock-on effect across the entire industry.”

Another delivery company, Evri, said the cold weather, Royal Mail strikes and staff shortages are causing some localised delays.

Royal Mail has said the company offered workers a pay rise of up to 9 per cent over 18 months. However, the CWU said it offered workers 3 per cent this year, 3 per cent next year and an extra 2 per cent if workers agreed to “the absolute destruction” of terms and conditions.

CWU Royal Mail workers will strike again on December 23 and 24.

Figures released by the Office of National Statistics on Friday revealed that the gap between wage growth in the public and private sector is at an almost record high.

The average pay rise for workers in the private sector was 6.9 per cent between August and October, compared to just 2.7 per cent for public sector employees.

Are striking workers paid?

Companies are under no obligation to pay striking employees, the government said.

“You do not have to pay employees who are on strike,” it said.

“If workers take action short of a strike, and refuse to carry out part of their contractual work, this is called ‘partial performance’.

“The amount of pay that should be deducted should be equal to the amount they would have been paid.

“You cannot deduct an employee’s pay if they were not supposed to be working on the day of the strike.”

Most unions offer payments to striking members.

For example, Unison pays £50, or matches a person’s salary if their normal salary is below £50 per day, to members taking strike action who face financial difficulty.

Updated: December 14, 2022, 2:38 PM