Faced with inflation of 7.9% in June, workers in the health, transport, education and postal sectors in the United Kingdom went on strike on Thursday to demand an increase in their pay. Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has urged civil service unions to accept the government’s ultimate offer of a 5% to 7% increase depending on the sector.
The United Kingdom paralyzed again. The country faced new strikes on Thursday, July 20, hitting both hospitals, where thousands of medical specialists stopped working for the first time in ten years, as well as the railways, where train drivers once again walked off the job.
The country, which is facing a serious cost of living crisis, has been hit for months by strikes in various sectors: health, transport, education or the postal service… Employees are demanding wage increases in the face of inflation, which is slowing down but remains the highest in the G7 countries: at 7.9% in June over a year.
After the nurses, the paramedics, the “junior doctors” who are equivalent to trainees, this week it is the turn of the “consultants”, the most experienced doctors, to stop work in English hospitals. They began a 48-hour strike at 7 a.m. local time (0600 GMT) on Thursday. Hospital dentists have also joined the movement.
Eighteen month waiting time for pediatric dental treatment
The public health service, the NHS, is stretched thin. After many years of austerity treatment and the Covid-19 pandemic, access to care is increasingly complicated.
Children must wait up to 18 months for dental procedures that require anesthesia, including tooth extractions, according to a BBC investigation published on Wednesday.
The five-day strike, until last Tuesday, by the “junior doctors” led to the postponement of more than 100,000 appointments. That from specialists could cause even more disruption, the NHS has warned.
In eight months of strikes, more than 600,000 GP appointments have been affected in total, according to NHS Chief Medical Officer Stephen Powis. “It becomes increasingly difficult to get services back on track after each strike,” he lamented.
Last government increase offer
“No strike is a celebration. It’s a sad day,” said Philip Kelly from a strike outside a hospital in London, specializing in emergency medicine. But “at the end of the year we will be paid 40% less than in 2008, in real terms”, he lamented.
Doctors attend a meeting for a pay rise at the British Medical Association (BMA) headquarters in London on July 20, 2023 © Henry Nicholls, AFP
The government has proposed a 6% increase for this year for specialist doctors.
“My door is always open to discuss issues of lack of pay, but this proposal is final and I am therefore calling on the BMA to end its strikes immediately,” Health Secretary Steve Barclay said in a statement.
On July 13, Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called on civil service unions to end strikes and accept the government’s ultimate pay rise offer of 5% to 7% depending on the sector. The teachers have thus announced the suspension of their movement after an offer of 6.5 per cent.
Train drivers from the RMT union, who have been escalating strikes for a year, will also walk out on Thursday as the school holidays start.
Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT, the rail and maritime transport union, speaks at a rally in favor of better pay for doctors organized at the headquarters of the BMA (British Medical Association) trade union in London, July 20, 2023 © Henry Nicholls, AFP
Rail services warned that on Thursday and then on July 22 and 29 there would be “little or no service across most of the network”. The railway union Aslef began a strike on July 17, which was due to end on Saturday.