Why Are Teachers And Nurses Across the UK Protesting?

Why Are Teachers And Nurses Across the UK Protesting

The National Education Union (NEU) representing school teachers, and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) representing NHS nurses are going ahead with the industrial action planned for January and February. Protestors are demanding a pay rise that is in line with the country’s rising inflation rate.

On Monday, nurses and teachers unions across the country announced that they have voted to join railway workers, delivery workers and others in staging industrial action against the Rishi Sunak government if their pay rise demands are not met by the end of January.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) – a trade union in the United Kingdom for school teachers, college lecturers, education support staff and teaching assistants – voted to begin a mass seven day strike on February 1, accompanying the Trade Union Congress’ “Protect the Right to Strike” day of action. Thousands of schools across England and Wales are set to be closed during the strikes, halting the UK’s education sector.

The protests began last summer after the government announced that teachers would receive a yearly pay rise of about 5%, with starting salaries going up by 8.9%. However, NEU, the largest teachers union in Britain, did not accept this, demanding that they be given a pay rise that is in line with the country’s inflation rate. The consumer price index (CPI) – the measure of inflation – in the UK currently stands at 10.7%, one of the highest rates in over 40 years.

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU, said the strikes were not about pay rise but correcting historic real-terms pay cuts. The group noted that teachers have lost 23% in real-term pay since 2010, with support staff losing over 27% in the same period. NEU says that the 5% pay rise promised by the government for teaching staff this year is 7% below current inflation levels, and in the midst of a cost of living crisis, the terms are unacceptable.

Why Are Teachers And Nurses Across the UK Protesting

Under the national strike law, unions have to reach a turnout threshold of 50%, with at least 40% of eligible voters being in favour, for an industrial action to be valid. 300,000 NEU members were balloted for the cause, with nine out of ten voting in favour. 53% of the members in England and a whopping 92% in Wales voted for holding the strikes. Bringing the total voter turnout to 58%, exceeding the legally required limit. The NEU says its planned seven-day strike, which is set to begin on February 1, will affect four working days of 23,400 schools in England and Wales.

The group announced that it regrets having to take strike action and is willing to enter into negotiations with authorities at “any time, any place” to resolve the situation. The Department of Education has ordered headteachers to take necessary steps to keep schools open for as many students as possible, prioritising those that sit for public examinations. Schools should also consider providing remote classes if attendance is restricted.

Meanwhile, after days of protest in December demanding higher pay, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) – a trade union for nurses in the UK – and the government failed to reach an agreement on the matter. Now further industrial action is planned for January 18 and 19. The RCN has called on National Health Service (NHS) members across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to join the stoppages this month and on 6 and 7 February.

Newly qualified nurses in the UK are paid a Band 5 salary of just over £27,000 per year, and with four years of experience this salary will rise to £33,000. With enough experience, nurses can apply for Band 6 positions that will take their payments to the range between £34,000 and £40,500 per year. However, according to a report published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in October 2022, the average yearly salary for a full-time worker across all industries in the UK is £33,000. With 42% of nurses in the NHS on Band 5 salaries, they are paid less than the UK’s average salary scale.

For over a decade , salaries of nurses and teachers have grown the slowest compared to all industries across the public and private sectors. As a matter of fact, payments for healthcare workers have actually dropped 10% in real terms while their cost of living has gone up over 10%. The government offered an average pay increase of 4.75% in 2022, which the RCN said was inadequate. The union is campaigning for a 19% pay rise, or at least 5% above the current inflation rate. However, the government stated that the unions’ demands were unaffordable.

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive for the NHS Confederation, has urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to quickly “find a solution” to the problem that is curtailing the country’s healthcare sector. RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said that the union is ready to negotiate a deal with the government that will compromise on its earlier demands but will be fair to the workers.

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