Up to half a million British teachers, civil servants, train drivers and university lecturers will strike on Wednesday in the largest co-ordinated action in a generation which the government says will cause widespread disruption.
The mass walkouts will see schools close, the military on standby to help at Britain’s borders, and no rail services running across much of the country.
Union leaders estimate up to 500,000 people will take part, the highest number for at least a decade, and there will be rallies against a planned new law to curb strikes in some sectors, a proposal they argue will poison relations further.
“After years of brutal pay cuts, nurses, teachers and millions of other public servants have seen their living standards decimated – and are set to face more pay misery,” said Paul Nowak, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), the union umbrella group.
“Instead of scheming up new ways to attack the right to strike, ministers should get pay rising across the economy – starting with a decent pay rise for workers across the public sector.”
Teachers in England and Wales, who are members of the National Education Union (NEU), will embark on their first day of strikes on Wednesday, which will disrupt more than 23,000 schools.
The walkouts, which could see more than 100,000 teachers take action in a dispute over pay, come on the same day that university lecturers, train drivers, civil servants, bus drivers and security guards are going on strike.
Some parents will be forced to take leave from work, or arrange other childcare, as a result of planned school closures across England and Wales.
The NEU is estimating that around 85 per cent of schools in England and Wales will be fully or partially closed on Wednesday.
Rail passengers also face another day of travel disruption as train driver members of Aslef and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union will strike once more in a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Protests are due to be held across the country against the government’s controversial plans for a new law on minimum service levels during strikes.
It comes as fresh strikes have been announced for later this month, with thousands of ambulance workers across five services in England set to take action on February 10th in a long-running dispute over pay and staffing.
Thousands of Environment Agency workers are also expected to strike on February 8th in a dispute over pay.
The latest research by the Trades Union Congress suggests that the average public sector worker is more than £200 a month worse off compared to a decade ago.
Downing Street has conceded that the mass strike action on Wednesday will be “very difficult” for the public.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said it is “disappointing” that head teachers do not know fully how many teachers will be available for work until the strike day itself.
The NEU is required by law to provide schools with the number of members that it is calling on to take strike action in each workplace, but the union does not have to provide the names of members.
Some heads have already announced plans to close, either fully or partially, or to remain open based on the number of NEU members in their school.
But school leaders are unlikely to know about any extra staff who have joined the union in recent weeks, and they will not know the full picture around who will be available to work until Wednesday morning.
The NEU has had 40,000 new sign-ups to the union since the strikes were announced a fortnight ago.
Health leaders are concerned that teacher strikes could lead to sudden no-shows for patients with childcaring responsibilities for scheduled appointments, as well as checks, vaccinations and scans.
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Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “The extent of the disruption is an unknown for health leaders as not all schools have confirmed whether they’ll be able to remain open.
“With pressures running so high, this is the last thing they need.”
Local authorities have begun outlining what impact the walkout could have on schools, with many only able to remain partially open to certain year groups.
Liverpool City Council is expecting 38 per cent of schools to be closed, with 54 per cent only partially open, based on returns from 130 of about 160 schools in the city.
Meanwhile, Norfolk County Council said they had already been informed of 121 partial closures and 29 full closures across schools.
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In a message to parents, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “The strike will disrupt their child’s education and we regret that, and it will disrupt their home life and their work life and we regret that.
“We sincerely regret it, but we’re pointing to disruption that is happening every day in schools.
“If we don’t persuade government to invest in education that disruption just carries on.”
The Department for Education has offered a 5 per cent pay rise to most teachers for the current school year, but the NEU is demanding a fully funded above-inflation pay rise for teachers.
The NEU has announced seven days of strikes in England and Wales in February and March, but Mr Courtney is hopeful that the government can make an offer to teachers to prevent the further planned walkouts.
He told the PA news agency: “There are 28 days until the next strike in England. The government can resolve it in that time.”
Picket lines will be mounted outside schools, train stations, universities and government departments on Wednesday, and rallies will be held across the country.
And thousands of people are expected to join a march through central London to Westminster for a rally to be addressed by union leaders. – Agencies