Teachers’ strike: Mass public sector walk-out as thousands protest against pay and working conditions

As many as one million public sector workers could take part in industrial action - one of the largest protests since the Coalition came to power

Tens of thousands of teachers are walking out of the classroom today in protest against pay, workload pressures and pension changes as the Coalition government downplays the extent of the strike.

As many as one million public sector workers are staging industrial action, with health workers and civil servants joining teachers in a mass demonstration against austerity measures.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) says more than 20,000 teachers could take part, with nationwide rallies and pickets planned for towns and cities ranging from Cambridge, Leicester, Swansea, Torquay and the Isle of Wight.

The strike has been condemned by the Department of Education (DfE) as disrupting to pupils’ education and harming the reputation of the teaching profession, while the government said that it actually expects most schools to open their doors.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The vast majority of dedicated public sector workers did not vote for today's action, and early indications are that most are turning up for work as usual.

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“We have rigorous contingency plans in place, services appear to be working well and we expect most schools and Jobcentres to open their doors.

“In the civil service we estimate that fewer than 90,000 members of the [Public and Commercial Services] PCS union will not be working - this is lower than previous strike action and just a fifth of the civil service workforce."

Members from Unite and Unison will also be taking part, with regional council buildings being picketed and a march planned to begin from the BBC headquarters near Oxford Circus, London, which will head for Trafalgar Square.

Libraries, museums, job centres and courts will also be picketed, while TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady will join protestors at a transport depot and social care offices in London.

One of the main reasons that workers are taking to the streets is over pay conditions and the “drastic decline in basic pay,” the TUC says, following multiple pay freezes and a “punitive 1 per cent pay cap” since 2012, which the union says has resulted in a real-terms cut of 20 per cent.

“Fair pay” is an issue also being pursued by Unite, while Unison is pushing for the living wage so that a person can “live decently and adequately provide for their family.”

The NUT's General Secretary, Christine Blower, said: “Teachers deeply regret having to take strike action.

“We are aware that this causes problems and disruption for parents and carers. However, despite months in talks with Government officials, the real issues of our dispute over pay, pensions and conditions of service have not been addressed.

“Teacher morale is at a low ebb. Thousands of good, experienced teachers are leaving or considering leaving their job and a teacher shortage crisis is looming.

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“Ofsted itself says that two in five teachers are leaving the profession in their first five years. This is a very serious state of affairs and is a direct result of this Government's policies.”

The Cabinet Office has slated the strike, claiming that it will not make any different nor benefit anyone.

“It is disappointing that, once again, some union leaders have pushed for strike action that will achieve nothing and benefit no one,” the spokesman added.

“Union leaders have relied on mandates for action that lack authority - the National Union of Teachers ballot was run nearly two years ago, while other ballots had extremely low turnouts.”

Its comments follow Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to introduce strict new laws to curb industrial action in essential services.

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