UK ambulance workers walk out, joining wave of strike action

Around 25,000 U.K. ambulance workers have gone on strike, walking out for the second time since December in an ongoing dispute with the government over pay

Sylvia Hui
Wednesday 11 January 2023 12:28 GMT

Around 25,000 U.K. ambulance workers went on strike Wednesday, walking out for the second time since December in an ongoing dispute with the government over pay.

The industrial action by paramedics, drivers and call handlers was the latest in a wave of strikes in recent months that has crippled the country's rail network on some days and strained the U.K.'s overburdened public health system.

Health officials have warned that the impact of Wednesday's strike will be worse than the one held in December because more staff, including call handlers, are walking out. People were advised to call in cases of life-threatening emergencies — such as cardiac arrest or a serious road accident — and ambulances will still respond to such situations.

But less urgent cases will not be prioritized and some people will have to make their own way to hospitals.

Union leaders say some of the lowest-paid public health workers, including call handlers and drivers, are close to falling below the national minimum wage.

“When people accuse us of putting the public at risk, I would say it is this government that has put the public at risk by refusing consistently to talk to us. There is no offer on the table," Christina McAnea, general secretary of the UNISON union, told striking workers outside an ambulance station in Sheffield, northern England.

Scores of other workers, including nurses, train and bus drivers and postal workers, have in recent months joined a wave of strikes — the biggest in decades in Britain — to demand better salaries as inflation soars to the highest levels the U.K. has seen since the early 1980s. Inflation rose to 11.1% in October, before coming down slightly to 10.7% in November.

Wages, especially in the public sector, have not kept pace with the skyrocketing cost of living.

The strike action comes at a time of severe strain for the U.K.'s National Health Service, which has reported record demand on urgent and emergency care services this winter.

Government officials met trade union leaders on Monday but there has been no breakthrough in negotiations.

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