Biggest day of strikes for years amid continuing disputes over pay

ITV News UK Editor Paul Brand reports on the biggest day of industrial action this year

Hundreds of thousands of workers have staged a strike on Budget Day in what is the biggest walkout since the current wave of industrial action started last year.

Members of several trade unions took action, mounting hundreds of picket lines across the country amid continuing anger over issues including pay, jobs, pensions and conditions.

Junior doctors, teachers, civil servants, lecturers, London Underground drivers, BBC journalists and Amazon workers took industrial action, saying they wanted to send a strong message to the government on the day of the Budget.

Despite talks being held between unions and the Westminster government, the public sector strikes remain deadlocked.

Some of the strikes, such as those by teachers, were only held in England as progress has been made in Wales and Scotland.

Workers descended on Trafalgar Square for a combined rally on Wednesday, which union leaders claimed was attended by at least 40,000 people.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) members – wearing red beanie hats embroidered with the union’s logo – were led from Embankment station, down Whitehall and to the square by a marching drum band and four people carrying a giant yellow balloon.

Members of the National Education Union (NEU) and British Medical Association (BMA) joined them there, waving placards, blowing whistles and listening to speeches from union leaders and MPs.

Some teachers carried signs reading “pay up” and attacking Prime Minister Rishi Sunak for being in the “bottom set”.

Emmanuel Adebayo, a 36-year-old primary school teacher from Haringey, north London, said conditions had deteriorated so much he had considered quitting.

“At the moment working conditions are really poor, we don’t have glue sticks to offer and we can’t take the children on trips,” he said.

“This isn’t the experience I had growing up and I don’t want this to be all that my pupils have access to.

“I have considered leaving teaching but I love my job. That’s why I’m here today, to make sure that things are better for other teachers to come," he added.

People on strike during a rally in Trafalgar Square, central London. Credit: PA

Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint general secretaries of the NEU said: “We do not want to go on strike – we want to be in the classroom, teaching and supporting children and young people.

“It continues to be a regret that our members have to take strike action, but we know that parents and the public understand the gravity of the situation around school funding and teacher recruitment and retention.

“The NEU, as we have always stated, is prepared to enter talks at any point, and as and when through negotiation a reasonable offer from government is made we will pause strike action while the offer is put to members."

Members of the National Union of Journalists working at BBC Local across England joined the strikers in a row over programme cuts. Meanwhile junior doctors in the British Medical Association continued with a three-day stoppage they launched on Monday over pay.

The strikes coincide with the day of Jeremy Hunt’s first Spring Budget. Credit: PA

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka warned the action is just the start of strikes that could last until the end of the year.

He said: “On Budget Day we’re asking Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to give our hard-working members a fair pay rise.

“We’ve been given a 2% pay rise when food inflation was 16% last week. 40,000 civil servants use food banks and 45,000 claim in-work benefits because they’re so poor.

“The government can stop these strikes today by putting money on the table for our members.

“If they don’t, our action will escalate. Where the Westminster government has a direct involvement in disputes, very little progress has been made.

“Shamefully, ministers don’t seem interested in giving their own employees a fair pay rise to help them through the cost-of-living crisis and beyond.”

Passengers were urged to check before travelling by Tube in London because of disruption caused by a strike by members of Aslef and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT).

Empty platforms in Paddington station in London. Credit: PA

In a letter to the London mayor, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “As you know, at this moment, London Underground managers are imposing new rosters across our Tube stations which are based on cutting 600 station staff jobs.

“In January, I wrote to you raising my serious concerns about the safety consequences of these cuts. Because they are now so short-staffed, managers appear to be mis-using waivers in order to override agreed minimum safe staffing levels at Tube stations.

“This means that stations are now opening with too few or, in some cases, no staff. I asked for a moratorium on these station staff cuts while an investigation took place, yet managers are proceeding with the use of the new rosters.”

Finn Brennan of Aslef said the government’s failure to properly fund public transport in the capital is to blame.

He warned further strikes are “inevitable” unless the row is resolved.

Striking NHS junior doctors on the picket line outside Queen Elizabeth hospital in Birmingham. Credit: PA

NHS Providers chief executive Sir Julian Hartley said: “So far, so difficult for the NHS – but the health service is still there for patients.

“Unlike previous strikes, it’s noticeable that there has been no let-up in the demand for care.

“Senior doctors are stepping into the breach but it isn’t business as usual. For hospital patients that means it’s taking longer for admissions and the discharge process is also slower. Ambulance handover delays are up too.

“We’re seeing increased levels of cover by senior doctors in mental health and community services but it isn’t sustainable and trust leaders are worried about ‘burning goodwill’.

“The planning effort involved in preparing for the strike and keeping services going has been huge and has taken leaders’ time away from other work.

"We can’t go on like this. The knock-on effects of a three-day strike will be felt for a long time to come."

Mike Clancy, general secretary of Prospect, said: “Our members in the public sector have seen their incomes decline by up to 26% over the past 13 years and their work taken for granted – they have had enough.

“Poor pay and declining morale represent an existential threat to the Civil Service’s ability to function, and to our ability to regulate and deliver on the government’s priorities.

“Bills are rocketing and pay is falling ever further behind the private sector leaving our members with no option but to take industrial action.

“We will continue our campaign until the government comes up with a meaningful offer. If it doesn’t do so soon, we may be left with no Civil Service to protect.”

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