Strikers promise ‘serious disruption’ in UK in January, government inflexible

Around 40,000 rail workers working for Network Rail, the public manager of the rail network, but also 14 private train companies, are observing a four-day strike called by the RMT union. The train drivers’ union, Aslef, calls for an extra working day.

The RMT, which launched the biggest strike in 30 years in the sector in June, is asking for better wages in light of inflation close to 11% in the country, but also guarantees for working conditions. The union accuses the Conservative government, which wants to reform the sector, of blocking negotiations.

Network Rail has warned that “severe disruption” is expected across parts of the rail network this week and is urging Britons to “only travel if absolutely necessary”.

Health, post and telecommunications also affected

Strikes have multiplied across many sectors in recent months in the UK, hitting health in particular in December with a stoppage for nurses and paramedics, but also postal workers and telecoms operators.

Many movements continue in January, with paramedics striking again on the 11th and 23rd and nurses striking again on the 18th for two days as the UK health system, which has been underfunded for years, is under pressure.

The endless waiting times and shortages are thought to cause 300-500 deaths a week in UK emergency departments

Several medical organizations warned on Monday of the crisis affecting emergency services, where many patients they say are dying due to a lack of adequate or timely care, and are calling on the government to respond to growing social discontent.

Transport was disrupted during the holiday by strikes by rail workers, but also by traffic officers on UK motorways, train cleaners and some bus drivers in London. The majority of these movements continue in January.

A Border Police strike, which lasted eight days in late December, led to the deployment of soldiers to several UK airports to replace striking officers.

Challenge on an unprecedented scale

The wave of protests hitting the country is on a scale not seen in decades. The government remains inflexible to the strikers’ demands and is even considering tightening the rules on the strike.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in late December that the fight against inflation meant “being responsible when it comes to setting wages in the public sector” so as not to fuel further price rises.

According to a YouGov poll published at the end of December, two-thirds of Britons support strikes by nurses, 63% of ambulance workers. The rail strike is less popular, supported by 43% of respondents.

“(The rail) unions have decided they want to go on strike this week, which is grossly unnecessary, which damages the rail sector and the interests of the people who work there,” Transport Minister Mark Harper. The minister assures that “hard work” is being done to resolve the conflict between the railway companies and the unions and indicates that an offer is on the table.

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