Tens of thousands of school teachers, university staff and lecturers, train drivers, and civil servants are among the workers walking out as part of Wednesday’s nationwide strike in the UK.
Such widespread strike action has not taken place since a previous pay dispute back in 2011 when more than a million workers walked out.
The National Education Union says around 300,000 teachers across England alone are striking as they have experienced at least 23% real-term pay cuts since 2010.
Like many others in different sectors, teachers are also demanding an increase above the soaring double-digit inflation rate in the country.
While a majority of schools are either fully or partially closed, travel is also disrupted with workers setting up picket lines and rallies.
Around 100,000 civil servants from 124 public departments have also joined the strike.
Major travel disruptions across UK, queues at airports
Workers of 15 train companies are also staging a walkout on Wednesday, which will be followed by another strike on Friday.
The industrial action has been organized by the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) union, which represents 96% of train drivers in England, Scotland, and Wales.
Border Force operations are also affected, with delays reported for international arrivals at all UK air and maritime ports, as well as at UK border controls in France.
Wednesday’s strike is the second walkout by the Border Force staff after the Christmas season when military personnel was called in to take over their duties.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) also announced that 1,000 staff will be staging walkouts from Feb. 17 to Feb. 20 across ports located in northern France: Dover, Calais, Coquelles, and Dunkirk.
In a statement, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said the planned strikes will impact people returning from holidays, but said the “blame … lies firmly at the feet of ministers who are refusing to put any money on the table.”
Anti-strike bill protests across UK
The Trades Union Congress (TUC), which represents all the unions in the country, has announced rallies across the UK for Wednesday.
Most of those who are on strike was expected to join nationwide demonstrations where workers protest against the government’s anti-strike legislation that was passed in the lower house of parliament on Tuesday.
The bill imposes restrictions on industrial actions in certain sectors, as the government says it supports the right to strike but also wants to take into account the interests of the public.
“Members of the opposition who object to minimum safety levels, well, they’ll need to explain to their constituents why it is that if you have a heart attack, a stroke, or life-threatening illness on a strike day there are no minimum safety standards in place,” British Business Secretary Grant Shapps said while defending the new legislation, which looks into six key sectors including health, education, fire, rescue, transport, border security, and nuclear decommissioning.
TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak says the legislation “will prolong disputes and poison industrial relations, leading to more frequent strikes.”
Refusing to work on the day of a strike could result in a worker to be sacked, according to the new law. “That’s undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal,” Nowak said.
Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack called the bill a “shameful attack” on democratic rights.
“This is an attack on all workers, including key workers, who kept our public services going during the pandemic. It’s an attack on Britain’s COVID heroes and on all workers. We need a mass movement of resistance to this authoritarian attack,” he said.