Millions face disruption as strikes hit schools, trains, universities and border checks – live
The national education union stands ready to negotiate once the education secretary “gets her act together and her story straight”, says union chief.
Speaking with Sky News, Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU) said:
Unfortunately about 85% of schools will be impacted for a strike that didn’t need to happen if the government had been prepared to negotiate.
When asked of education secretary Gillian Keegan’s remarks that there is no more money to meet pay rise demands, Bousted asked if that is the case, then what are the government recommending for next year?
In a video posted on Twitter directed at parents ahead of teacher strikes today, Keegan said: “I am listening to teachers and I have met with unions for discussions many times. We’re working on a range of issues including pay, workload, flexible working, behaviour and much more.”
“I’d really like to know where Gillian Keegan is,” Bousted told Sky News, adding that the Welsh government is negotiating, wondering why the English government hasn’t followed suit.
This just isn’t good enough. It isn’t good enough for parents, it isn’t good enough for children, it isn’t good enough for my members. We stand ready to negotiate with the secretary of state once she gets her act together and her story straight.
Majority of schools will remain open, says education secretary
The “majority” of schools in England and Wales will remain open, the education secretary has claimed, as more than 100,000 teachers join the picket line for the first time in six years.
Gillian Keegan said some schools may open with restrictions, while others are open to everyone, but expressed her disappointment that any are closing at all.
Teaching staff are taking part in a day of coordinated strikes involving up to half a million civil servants, Border Force staff and train drivers.
The UK’s biggest teaching union, the NEU has predicted that 85% of schools will be affected, with one survey suggesting that up to one in seven schools will be closed to all pupils, rising to a quarter in London.
When asked on Wednesday how many schools would stay open, Keegan struggled to estimate how many pupils would not have their education disrupted.
Read more here:
Heathrow airport said it was operating as normal with minimal queuing in immigration halls despite the strike by Border Force workers.
A spokesperson for the airport told PA Media:
Heathrow is fully operational, passengers are flowing through the border smoothly with Border Force and the military contingency providing a good level of service for arriving passengers. We are working to support Border Force’s plans to continue the smooth operation of the airport during this period of industrial action.”
Paying public sector workers is a matter of “political priority”, says the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS).
Speaking with Sky News, general secretary Mark Serwotka said the union has tried for months to engage the government in discussions for wage increases as more than 40,000 civil servants are using food banks.
But the government seems happy to give its own workforce far less even than everyone else has been offered, and rejected, and they’re going on strike over, so this is necessary I’m afraid.
When asked where the money will come from, Serwotka said: “It’s a matter of political priority.” The general secretary said the government claimed it would cost £29bn to give every public sector worker what they’ve demanded; however, its calculations are near £10bn.
“And £10bn in an economy like ours can easily be found,” added Serwotka, comparing the amount with the previous Liz Truss government plans to borrow £200bn for tax cuts.
Today’s strikes, in numbers
The scale of the strikes
475,000 Approximate number of workers expected to go on strike on Wednesday – the single biggest day of industrial action for more than a decade. 200,000 teachers – Sally Weale has a useful explainer on school closures here – and 100,000 civil servants including border force workers will be joined by university lecturers, security guards and train drivers when they walk out today. While the disruption is significant, it appears to be some way short of a “de facto general strike”, as the government has claimed.
467,000 The estimated total number of working days lost to strike action by 197,000 workers in November, according to the Office for National Statistics – the most recent set of full-month statistics available.
1m Union estimate of the number of working days lost in December, the worst single-month disruption since 1989.
£1.7bn Lower estimate of the total direct and indirect cost of strikes to UK GDP over eight months to January this year, according to analysis by the Centre for Economics and Business Research. That amounts to about 0.1% of the UK’s expected GDP over the same period, with the value of the whole UK economy standing at about £2.5tn.
The impact of real pay cuts
33% The increase in real wages – the value of wages after inflation is factored in – across all workers between 1970 and 2007, according to the Resolution Foundation.
4.3% The real-terms drop in public-sector pay between 2009 and 2022, according to Guardian analysis of ONS data last July.
3% The decline in real wages in 2022, the biggest drop since 1977, according to the Trades Union Congress. Public-sector pay is the worst affected, with the average key worker £180 a month worse off than a year earlier. In the three months to November, private-sector wage growth stood at 7.2% before inflation was taken into account, against 3.3% in the public sector. This was against a headline inflation rate in January of 10.7%, amounting to a real-terms cut for both groups.
Public opinion on strikes
34% The proportion of the public who said unions play a negative role in society in November, against 26% in the same YouGov poll in June. In November, 35% said they played a positive role, against 32% in June, with the number who said they did not know or that unions were neither positive nor negative declining.
28% The proportion saying unions played a negative role in the same poll conducted this month – a 6% drop. Meanwhile, the proportion who said they played a positive role has risen by two points to 34%.
65% The proportion of the public who said they either strongly or “somewhat” support striking nurses in the January poll. Ambulance workers, firefighters, teachers and postal workers all enjoy a majority of public support once “don’t knows” are excluded. Strikes by driving examiners, baggage handlers, Transport for London workers and university staff are less popular. YouGov says that the answers correlate strongly with the extent to which respondents say they believe each group contributes to society, but do not appear to be linked to the perceived level of disruption caused.
The general secretary of the Trades Union Congress of UK hopes the government will take strikes seriously and “listen to the voices of working people”.
Speaking on Sky News, Paul Nowak, added:
I would hope that any employer would have the good grace and the sense to listen to the staff when the staff tell them that there’s a problem, and there clearly is a problem.
Earlier on the program this morning, education secretary Gillian Keegan said “our objective this year is to get rid of the problem, which is inflation.”
Speaking with Times Radio, Keegan said she was “disappointed” that a strike by teachers in England and Wales is going ahead.
Keegan said the industrial action was unnecessary as discussions with the unions were continuing.
I am disappointed that it has come to this, that the unions have made this decision. It is not a last resort. We are still in discussions. Obviously there is a lot of strike action today but this strike did not need to go ahead.
Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of today’s strikes involving up to half a million people – the single biggest day of UK industrial action for more than a decade.
The coordinated series of strikes involve teachers, civil servants, Border Force staff and train drivers. Unions said negotiations on ending strikes were “going backwards” and the government has warned people to brace for “significant disruption”.
Here’s a look at who is striking today:
Transport – Aslef and RMT train drivers are striking, causing disruption on services across the country
Higher education – University staff across 120 universities who are members of the University and College Union (UCU) launch 18 days of strike action across February and March
Education – Teachers belonging to both the National Education Union (NEU) are striking across England and Wales; and in Scotland, teachers who are members of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) in Clackmannanshire and Aberdeen continue strike action
Civil Service – More than 100,000 civil servants are striking across 124 government departments