'Walkout Wednesday': Hundreds of thousands of workers walk out in biggest strike day in a decade
ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports on the UK's biggest day of strikes in a decade
Hundreds of thousands of workers – including school teachers and train drivers – are walking out on strike for what will be the biggest day of industrial action in more than a decade.
Teachers in England and Wales, who are members of the National Education Union (NEU), embarked on their first day of strikes on Wednesday, which threaten to disrupt more than 23,000 schools.
More than half (54%) of state schools in England were either fully closed or restricted access to pupils during the first day of walkouts by teachers, Department for Education (DfE) data has suggested.
The walkouts, which saw more than 100,000 teachers take action in a dispute over pay, came on the same day university lecturers, train drivers, civil servants, bus drivers and security guards are withdrawing their labour.
Picket lines were mounted outside schools, train stations, universities and government departments, and rallies are being held across the country.
In almost every corner of England and Wales, learning has been disrupted today. ITV News Social Affairs Correspondent Sarah Corker reports.
Rail passengers faced another day of travel disruption as train driver members of Aslef and the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union strike both today and Friday as part of their long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.
Network Rail made a "newly revised" offer to the biggest rail workers' union in a bid to break the deadlock over a long-running dispute about pay, jobs and conditions.
The infrastructure giant said it has added some fresh proposals to RMT. The union said its executive will consider the details of the offer.
ITV News' Sarah Corker, Neil Connery, and Romilly Weeks share the latest on what's been dubbed 'walkout Wednesday'
Meanwhile, protests were held across the country against the government’s controversial plans for a new law on minimum service levels during strikes.
Thousands marched through central London to protest against the new law at Westminster.
And inside Westminster, Rishi Sunak accused Sir Keir Starmer of siding with “extremist protesters and union bosses” after facing questions about Boris Johnson and an £800,000 loan at PMQs.
"We always teach our students to stand up and it's time for us to stand up for our rights" - striking teachers march to Westminster
Mr Sunak criticised Sir Keir for voting against controversial proposals to introduce minimum service levels during strikes and Labour’s opposition in the Lords to elements of the Public Order Bill, which seeks to crack down on protests.
Mr Sunak added: “What do the unions and Just Stop Oil have in common? They bankroll him and his party. So while he sides with extremist protesters and union bosses, we stand up for hard-working Britons and schoolchildren.”
The NEU previously estimated around 85% of schools in England and Wales were fully or partially closed on Wednesday, forcing some parents to take leave from work, or arrange other childcare
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, speaking over the noise of beeping from drivers passing a teachers’ picket line in Warwick, said: “I think Gillian Keegan (Education Secretary) is hoping our strike is ineffective and people won’t do it again.
“I think she’s wrong about that. There could be further action.
“She needs to do a deal so that that doesn’t happen.”
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 10 in a long-running dispute over pay and staffing.
Thousands of Environment Agency workers are also expected to strike on February 8 in a dispute over pay.
The latest research by the TUC suggests the average public sector worker is more than £200 a month worse off compared to a decade ago.
Downing Street has conceded the mass strike action on Wednesday will be “very difficult” for the public.
"An inflation busting pay rise is not on the table" - Education secretary Gillian Keegan tells ITV News
But the deadlock shows no sign of easing, as education secretary Gillian Keegan said teachers' demands for "an inflation busting" pay rise "was not on the table".
She said the government could not "risk fuelling inflation".
"We will half inflation this year. We need to get rid of the problem of inflation for everybody not just have some people who get above inflation pay rises," she said.
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.
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.”
He added: “With pressures running so high, this is the last thing they need.”
Based on data submitted to the DfE by 77% of state schools in England, 45.9% were estimated to be fully open, 44.7% were open but restricting attendance, and 9.3% were closed.
Nearly a fifth (17.4%) of secondary schools reported being fully open and 73.6% restricted attendance.
This compared to 52.1% of primary schools which reported being fully open and 38.7% with restricted attendance.
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A separate Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) poll, of 948 heads and principals in England and Wales – mostly in secondary schools - found that 97% said teachers were on strike in their workplace.
Among the 920 schools and sixth-form colleges polled where teachers were on strike, 80% said they were partially open and 9% said they were completely shut.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, said that he believes “more than 200,000” members staged walkouts on Wednesday, adding that the strike has been “really effective”.
Some schools closed their doors to all pupils because of strikes, while others opened for pupils with exam year groups, vulnerable students and children of critical workers prioritised.
School leaders reported using support staff and supply staff to cover lessons for pupils who were in during the strikes, while others combined classes.
The NEU leaders have called on the Education Secretary to “step up with concrete and meaningful proposals” on pay to prevent further strikes.
The Department for Education (DfE) has offered a 5% pay rise to most teachers for the current school year, but the NEU is demanding a fully funded above-inflation pay rise for teachers.
Mr Courtney and Mary Bousted, the joint general secretaries of the NEU, said: “Today, we put the Education Secretary on notice.
“NEU members do not want to go on strike again.
“However, be in no doubt that our members will do whatever it takes to stand up for education, including further strike action, if Gillian Keegan still fails to step up with concrete and meaningful proposals.”
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 said: “There are 28 days until the next strike in England. The government can resolve it in that time.”
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