UK teachers to push forward with strikes as talks fail

Junior doctors also a step closer to striking

Union leader Mary Bousted leaving the Department for Education in Westminster. PA
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A series of strikes by UK teachers is set to go ahead after talks failed to achieve a breakthrough, union leaders said late on Friday

Teaching union leaders spent six hours with officials at the Department for Education but the dispute over pay and conditions remains unresolved.

Junior doctors in England are also a step closer to striking after a vote was confirmed by one of two unions representing them.

The UK is in the grip of a number of strikes across several sectors, from railways to the civil service and health workers including nurses and ambulance crew.

They all largely revolve around pay disputes as the country is wracked by a cost-of-living crisis that has led to inflation rocketing above 10 per cent while pay offers have not followed suit.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said officials were doing their best to discuss issues including pay and workloads, but faced the “dead hand” of the Treasury.

She said the talks held on Friday should have been held over the past several years and there was no indication that more money would be made available to improve this year's below-inflation pay rise which has led to a series of ballots for strikes.

The NEU, the largest teacher union in the country, is pressing ahead with strikes in England and Wales from February 1.

“The meeting was perfectly constructive — we discussed workloads, recruitment and retention and flexible working but the gaping hole was what is needed to settle the dispute: more pay for this year as well as a long-term settlement, Ms Bousted said.

“I don't think anything we said today was a surprise to the officials. They know what our views are.”

She added it was clear the government did not understand unions and did not like talking to them but was being forced to engage because of the growing number of workers going on strike.

The NEU plans seven days of strikes in England and Wales, with the first on February 1 to coincide with walkouts by staff at universities, train drivers and 100,000 civil servants.

Why are UK nurses on strike?

Ambulance workers hold cardboard signs and flags of the UK's trade union UNISON as they take part in a rally at a picket line outside the Docklands Emergency Operating Centre, Newham Dockside, in London on January 11, 2023.  - The UK government on January 10, 2023 introduced proposals to make "minimum safety levels" compulsory during strikes, prompting angry unions to accuse ministers of "criminalising" industrial action and threaten legal challenges.  Ambulance workers in England and Wales walked out again today while nurses will follow suit again next week.  (Photo by Daniel LEAL  /  AFP)

The union has said strikes could affect more than 23,000 schools.

A Department for Education representative said: “Following the meeting earlier on this week with the Education Secretary, officials have held constructive discussions today with union leaders around a broad range of issues.

“They reiterated that action would be highly damaging to children's education, particularly following the disruption experienced over the past two years.”

More than 97 per cent of junior doctors with the Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association voted in favour of striking.

The union said there was a 74.76 per cent turnout and it will agree on “the timing and shape” of the action in co-ordination with other health unions.

“The government must see this result as a wake-up call from its current complacency,” union president Naru Narayanan said.

“Junior doctors are telling us they have had enough of being taken for granted. They are telling us they will leave the country if things do not get better. This is a critical issue for our NHS.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “Junior doctors do an incredible job and it is disappointing some union members have voted for strike action at a time when the NHS is already under huge pressure from Covid, flu and tackling the backlog.

“Junior doctors' pay will increase by a cumulative 8.2 per cent by March 2023 as part of a multiyear pay deal which also invested an additional £90 million to provide the most experienced junior doctors with higher pay, increase allowances for those working the most frequently at weekends and increase rates of pay for night shifts.”

Another 45,000 junior doctors who are members of the British Medical Association have also been balloted over striking, with the results due at the end of February.

Updated: January 20, 2023, 11:09 PM