Tuesday, 21 May 2024

UK set for 10 days of strikes in March with raft of action by workers

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Britain is set for a fresh wave of strike action next month with 10 days of walk outs by teachers, nurses, rail and postal workers. Members of the Rail, Martine and Transport union (RMT) will walk out on March 16, 18 and 20 as well as April 1 at 14 train operators. The union’s members at Network Rail will strike on March 16 and will then launch a ban on overtime.

The RMT, which represents 40,000 workers across Network Rail and 14 train operators, accuses employers of refusing to put any new offers on the table after it rejected offers last week.

RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “Rail employers are not being given a fresh mandate by the Government to offer our members a new deal on pay, conditions and job security. Therefore, our members will now take sustained and targeted industrial action over the next few months.

“The Government can settle this dispute easily by unshackling the rail companies. However, its stubborn refusal to do so will now mean more strike action across the railway network and a very disruptive overtime ban. Ministers cannot continue to sit on their hands hoping this dispute will go away as our members are fully prepared to fight tooth and nail for a negotiated settlement in the months ahead.”

Transport Secretary, Mark Harper said: “Just days after denying its members a say on their own future, the RMT leadership is now trying to make them lose multiple days’ wages through yet more strikes.

“Passengers want this dispute to end. We have facilitated fair and reasonable offers on pay and reform, with a pay rise worth 5 percent last year and 4 percent this year, but, sadly, the RMT leadership is not interested.

“Our railways are not currently financially sustainable and these best and final offers would have given workers what they want and, crucially, the passengers what they need. All more strikes will do is damage the rail industry even further and drive more passengers away.”

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced a significant escalation in strike action at more than 120 NHS employers in England in its increasingly bitter dispute over pay and staffing.

The college, which accused the UK Government of refusing to engage in negotiations, also said it will increase financial support for its members who lose wages by taking industrial action.

Strike will run continuously for 48 hours from 6am on March 1. Previous action took place only during the day shift, for 12 hours each time.

For the first time, the RCN will involve nursing staff working in emergency departments, intensive care units, cancer care and other services that were previously exempted.

A strike last week saw the RCN agree 5,000 exemptions at local level through committees of NHS hospitals and RCN staff, but this process will be stopped for the March dates.

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RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen, said: “It is with a heavy heart that I have today asked even more nursing staff to join this dispute.

“These strikes will not just run for longer and involve more people but will leave no area of the NHS unaffected. Patients and nurses alike did not want this to happen.

“By refusing to negotiate with nurses, the Prime Minister [Rishi Sunak] is pushing even more people into the strike. He must listen to NHS leaders and not let this go ahead.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “Failure to provide cover during strike action for key services like cancer care is a significant escalation from the Royal College of Nursing that will risk patient safety. We are working closely with NHS England on contingency plans, but this action will inevitably cause further disruption for patients.

“I’ve had a series of discussions with unions, including the RCN, about what is fair and affordable for the coming year, as well as wider concerns around conditions and workload.”

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Meanwhile, regional walkouts by National Education Union (NEU) members are planned for February 28, March 1 and March 2 with national strike action planned for March 15 and March 16.

The union suspended a day of strike action in Wales this week while it considered a pay offer made by the Welsh government. It has now rejected the pay offer – where teachers were offered an extra 1.5 percent on this year’s 5 percent pay award, as well as a 1.5 percent one-off payment – and it has rescheduled strike action in schools across Wales for March 2.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan met the general secretaries of unions representing teachers and headteachers on Wednesday morning in a bid to resolve the pay dispute in England.

Kevin Courtney, the joint General Secretary of the NEU said the meeting with Ms Keegan had a “better tone” than previous talks, but there was “no movement” from the Government.

The Department for Education offered a 5 percent pay rise to most teachers for the current school year, but the NEU is demanding a fully funded above-inflation pay rise for teachers.

Royal Mail workers have voted overwhelmingly to continue with a campaign of industrial action in a bitter dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

A fresh ballot of members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) showed almost 96 percent were in favour of more strikes unless the deadlock is broken.

CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said it was a “stunning” result which showed Royal Mail workers were determined to continue campaigning against plans to introduce changes in the company.

He revealed talks have been held with Royal Mail’s chairman and new members of the board with a view to “refresh” talks to try to reach an agreement.

Royal Mail workers have staged a series of strikes in recent months, including in the busy run up to Christmas. No new strikes have been announced but the union’s postal executive will meet next week to discuss the next move.

Mr Ward said he believed the Royal Mail board had intervened to allow a different approach to be made. He said: “The ball is in their court now. We are hopeful that a different process can facilitate an agreement.

“If it does not, the postal executive will meet next Wednesday and we will trigger the mandate for strike action – but that is not what we want to do.”

The union has been highly critical of Royal Mail Chief Executive Simon Thompson, who has been recalled to be questioned next week by MPs on the Business Select Committee about the dispute.

A Royal Mail spokesperson contradicted what Mr Ward said, insisting the board had not intervened and there is no new process to try to reach an agreement.

In addition to the recently announced strike action, Border Force workers will stage a fresh strike on Friday as part of an increasingly bitter dispute over pay, jobs, pensions and conditions in the civil service.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) in Dover and French ports, including Calais, will walk out from tomorrow and over the weekend.

The union claimed inexperienced staff were being brought in to cover for striking Border Force workers.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Ministers say their priority is security – it obviously isn’t.”

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