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Strikes UK – live: Sunak ‘pathetic’ in trying to shift blame as schools hit by walkout

Teachers, train drivers, civil servants and university staff among professions taking action

Liam James
Wednesday 01 February 2023 15:40 GMT
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All UK strike dates confirmed for February 2023

Rishi Sunak faced a testing Prime Minister’s Question time against a backdrop of Britain’s biggest strike day in more than a decade.

Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister was “pathetic” for trying to blame Labour for the mass walkouts.

He told MPs: “After 13 years in power, trying to blame the Labour Party for his failure to sort out the strikes is rank pathetic. The Tory Party’s addiction to sleaze and scandal has done huge damage to this country and the cost to the public keeps adding up.”

Mr Sunak replied: “He can’t stand up to his union bosses, he can’t stand up for Britain’s schoolchildren today and he can’t stand up for the women in his party.”

Teachers, train drivers, civil servants, university lecturers, bus drivers and security guards are among half a million workers walking out today, as union bosses accuse the government of frustrating efforts to reach compromise on pay deals.

Around 85 per cent of schools are either fully or partially closed by strike action today, while the bulk of Britain’s train network is offline.

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We are pausing our live updates for the afternoon, but you can find our latest politics coverage here.

Katy Clifton1 February 2023 15:40
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Network Rail revises offer to signal and maintenance staff

Network Rail (NR) has made a “newly revised” offer to the biggest rail workers’ union in a bid to break the deadlock over a long-running dispute about pay, jobs and conditions.

The infrastructure giant said it has added some fresh proposals to the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), representing signallers, maintenance staff and other workers at NR.

The union said it would consider the details of the offer.

NR said new elements of the offer included an increase in London allowances for those who are currently on, or move onto, different contracts.

“We want to introduce a standard 35-hour working week for everyone. We’re now committing to work with the unions to review contracts above a 35-hour week so we can agree a way forward.

“We’ll introduce a better long-service award framework for general grades, which will be backdated to 2022.

“We’ll improve carers’ leave. If you are a registered carer, you will be able to transfer five days’ paid volunteering leave to five days’ paid carers’ leave,” said Mr Shoveller.

NR said it was offering a minimum uplift of a consolidated £1,750 or a 5% increase (whichever is greater) up to a maximum uplift of £3,500 to the annual base rates of pay, with back pay from 1 January 2022, and a 4% increase to the annual base rates of pay effective from January 2023.

Over the two years, this adds up to an increase of between 9.2% to 14.4% - more for those on the lowest salaries, said NR.

There was also a commitment to no compulsory redundancies until January 2025, a 75% leisure travel discount for employees and their family, 75% reduction on an employee’s season ticket, and an opportunity to sell 10 days of leave if any is carried over from 2022.

Apprentices will have a “big increase” to their pay, backdated to April 2022, said NR.

Jane Dalton1 February 2023 15:35
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Labour MPs defy leader to join picket lines

A number of Labour MPs have joined picket lines to support striking workers, despite Keir Starmer previously saying no MP should do so “if they want to be in government”.

Labour MPs such as Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery and Kate Osborne joining picket lines during Wednesday’s strikes, and the Conservative Party press office account shared tweets from some of them.

Former party leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: “They are striking for decent pay. They are striving for social justice. They are fighting for us all.”

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) tweeted their thanks to Labour MPs who attended picket lines.

Left-winger Sam Tarry, the former frontbencher who represents Islington South, was previously sacked as a shadow transport minister after giving interviews from a picket line in July.

He defended his decision to join striking teachers in his constituency, and responded to the Tory party press office’s twitter thread by saying: “Much rather you focused on fairer pay for front line workers than me standing on picket lines... as Labour MPs have done so for over a 100 years.”

Sir Keir previously declined to say whether he would cross any picket line at Parliament during the civil servants’ strike.

Jane Dalton1 February 2023 15:10
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Brexit has nothing to do with falling living standards, claims Sunak

The impact on people’s living standards has “got nothing to do with Brexit”, Rishi Sunak said, as the SNP Westminster leader described the UK as a “Brexit ship” that “sinks”.

Stephen Flynn said: “Let’s be clear, taken together 2022 and 2023 are expected to be the worst years for living standards since the 1930s and the economy is expected to perform worse than sanction hit Russia.

“So whilst the Brexit ship sinks with the prime minister and the leader of the opposition at the helm, does he blame those Scots who want to jump aboard the independence lifeboat?”

Rishi Sunak replied: “The number one factor that is impacting people’s living standards, inflation caused by high energy prices as a result of a war in Ukraine.

“It’s got nothing to do with Brexit and that’s why the Government is taking significant action supporting every family with £900 this winter, but what I would say to him is rather than obsess about constitutional arrangements, focus on delivering for the people of Scotland, that’s what we will do.”

Liam James1 February 2023 14:50
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Services disrupted on South Western Railway

South Western Railway had told passengers it intended to run a full service on its mainline network on Wednesday, but there was disruption due to drivers not crossing picket lines.

The operator said: “Whilst our drivers are not on strike, some drivers are refusing to cross picket lines in support of our depot drivers who are taking industrial action today.”

It added there may be “short notice cancellations, delays and alterations to services on all routes”.

Analysis of train performance website trains.im showed 7.6% of services were either cancelled or more than half an hour late up to 2pm on Wednesday.

The figure for the entire day on Tuesday was 0.4%.

Jane Dalton1 February 2023 14:42
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Why are Britain’s teachers striking?

Joe Sommerlad looks at the struggle behind the strike:

Why are Britain’s teachers striking?

Educators forced to join picket lines to call for improved pay and working conditions

Liam James1 February 2023 14:30
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Boris Johnson says people accusing him of Partygate cover-up ‘out of their minds’

Boris Johnson has lashed out over Partygate scandal, accusing anyone who suspects he deliberately covered up Covid lockdown parties in No 10 of being “out of their mind” (Adam Forrest writes).

The former prime minister said the claim was “strictly for the birds”, despite being under investigation for allegedly lying to parliament over lockdown breaches.

In an interview with loyal Tory ally Nadine Dorries – who Mr Johnson is believed to have recommended for a peerage – he said he thought their mid-pandemic gatherings were “within the rules”.

The former Tory leader insisted he had to be “respectful” to the cross-party privileges committee that is undertaking the inquiry into him.

“But I’ll just repeat what I’ve said before, and I hope it’s obvious to everybody, that anybody who thinks I was knowingly going to parties that were breaking lockdown rules in No 10, or then knowingly covering up parties that were illicit that other people were going to, that’s all strictly for the birds,” he said.

Partygate cover-up? Accusers ‘out of their minds’, says Boris Johnson

Claims of cover-up ‘strictly for the birds’, former PM tells loyal ally Nadine Dorries

Liam James1 February 2023 14:10
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‘Zombie’ teachers offered anti-depressants as ‘burnt out’ staff strike over pay

Underpaid, overstretched and utterly exhausted, teachers who back strike action have described working like “zombies” as schools struggle to retain staff.

Kemi Oloyede, assistant head teacher of a school in London, described one colleague, a pastoral worker, who could not afford to feed her children.

“How is it fair that someone who looks after other people’s children isn’t left with enough to take care of her own?” she asked. “Why would you not want to take care of those who take care of your children? I can’t give the best of myself to your child if I can’t take care of my basic needs.”

Maryam Zakir-Hussain hears from teachers on the brink:

‘Zombie’ teachers offered anti-depressants as ‘burnt out’ staff go on strike over pay

‘I now have to think about my own children - it doesn’t pay to be a hero,’ one former assistant head says as schools close due to walkout

Liam James1 February 2023 13:50
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Train strike deal has drifted further away, says union boss

Aslef general Secretary Mick Whelan has said a deal which would bring an end to strikes is “further away than when we started” following months of failed negotiations with the government.

Speaking about whether Rishi Sunak’s cabinet has ushered in any hope for negotiations following months of stagnation under previous leaders, Mr Whelan told PA: “This isn’t a new government – the same people have been in place for 12 years.

“They’ve had 12 years to look at the needs of the economy, the needs of workers, and they’ve either got to adjust what they are doing, or they are going to go into recession.”

He added: “I think we’re further away than when we started. I think the bad faith non-offer that was put out to the press, not run through negotiation teams, and that threatened us with compulsory redundancies, has exacerbated an already difficult situation.”

Whelan outside Euston this morning (PA)
Liam James1 February 2023 13:30
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Latest pictures from the picket lines

Photographs are coming through from picket lines across the country as hundreds of thousands of workers go on strike.

Demonstrators wave flags of the PCS trade union as they march by Downing Street (AFP/Getty)
The crowd in Birmingham (PA)
Protesters from the National Education Union (NEU), Trades Union Congress (TUC), Public and Commercial Services (PCS), and University and College Union (UCU), gather at the the National Strike Action Rally in Birmingham (PA)
Seven unions are taking part in today’s action (PA)
Liam James1 February 2023 13:10

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