Public sector strike briefing: a million workers walk out

Jul 10, 2014

Strike action expected to be largest in three years, but Cameron plans to impose tough new strike laws

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Hundreds of schools and fire stations across the UK are closed today as teachers and other public sector workers stage a mass walkout over pay and spending cuts. David Cameron has criticised the action, but in private he may welcome it as a chance to garner support for new legislation tightening the rules on strikes.

Who's on strike?

Over a million public sector workers are taking action. Some unions say they expect up to two million workers could take part in the action, making it the largest walk-out since the pension dispute in 2011.

Workers taking part in the action include fire fighters, civil servants, teachers, transport workers and local government employees across the UK.

Why are they striking?

Unions have organised the walk-out in protest against pay freezes, pensions, job losses and spending cuts across the public sector.

"Workers are on strike today to say enough is enough" said TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady. "Year after year pay has failed to keep up with the cost of living." 

The government froze public sector pay four years ago and a pay-rise cap of one per cent was introduced in 2012.

Public sector employees are £2,245 worse off under the coalition government and half a million council workers earn below the living wage, according to a recent TUC report.

How has the government reacted?

 "The vast majority of dedicated public sector workers did not vote for today's action," a Cabinet Office spokesman told the BBC.

However, the BBC's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said the action is "actually rather politically convenient." He says it may help to bolster support for David Cameron's plans to include a strike ballot threshold in the Conservative's next manifesto.

"How can it possibly be right for our children's education to be disrupted by trade unions acting in that way?" Cameron said during prime minister's questions yesterday. "It is time to legislate."

Labour and the unions have criticised the proposal, which would require at least 50 per cent of a union's membership to turn out in order for a strike ballot to be binding.

In response to Cameron's statement, O'Grady said: "A better use of the prime minister's time might be to come up with ways to ensure that Britain's hard-pressed public sector workers begin to share in the economic recovery."

What is Labour's position?

Labour is anxious to avoid being seen allying itself to the unions and has tried to direct pressure back onto the coalition. "No-one wants to see a strike, not least because of the impact on children and parents," a party spokesman said. "Instead of ramping up the rhetoric the government should get round the table, because both sides have a responsibility to stop it happening."

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