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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 12:42 GMT
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.


Protest signs from the picket lines

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
Sam Rkaina1 February 2023 09:34

Union photocall delayed as banner stuck in traffic

A photocall for a train drivers’ strike at Euston station was slightly delayed on Wednesday morning due to the worker with their main banner being stuck in traffic.

Several Aslef union workers gathered outside the central London station at 8am as planned, but their large red banner had to be unfurled half an hour later due to transport delays.

The workers were joined by their general secretary, Mick Whelan, who spoke with the media while several passing cars beeped their horns in support of the strike.

Mr Whelan said 12,000 train drivers were taking industrial action across the country on Wednesday.

Sam Rkaina1 February 2023 09:22

The government ‘must act and put things right,’ NEU joint secretary says

Asked about government’s response to the teachers’ strikes, Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “They never thought we’d reach the (strike ballot) threshold.

“Since we’ve reached the threshold, 40,000 more people have joined the union as well.

“So it does show there’s a huge strength of feeling within the profession, that the government must act and put things right.”

Maryam Zakir-Hussain1 February 2023 09:10

Majority of schools fully or partially closed today due to strike action

Around 85 per cent of schools will be either fully or partially closed by strike action on Wednesday, the general secretary of the National Education Union has said.

Speaking outside Bishop Thomas Grant School in Streatham, south London, Dr Mary Bousted told the BBC: “About 85 per cent of schools will be affected - either fully closed or partially closed - today.”

She said striking teachers have received “many” messages of support from parents.

“We are very sorry that parents have been so inconvenienced by this strike action,” she said.

“We know that for many of them it will be very difficult to get childcare.

“But we’re also receiving many more messages from parents who say ‘Well, something has to be done, my child is being taught by supply teacher after supply teacher’.”

Maryam Zakir-Hussain1 February 2023 08:55

Education secretary says she expects most schools will be open today despite teachers’ strikes

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has said she expects most schools will open on Wednesday despite the strike by teachers.

She told BBC Breakfast: “We did do a survey and we have rung round a lot of schools as well and that told us told us that the majority of schools will be open but some will have restrictions for different cohorts.”

Ms Keegan said the the country could not afford above-inflation pay awards.

“What is not realistic is for us to be looking at inflation or inflation-busting pay rises. We cannot risk fuelling inflation with inflation-busting pay rises. We have to look after everybody in the economy,” she said.

Maryam Zakir-Hussain1 February 2023 08:22

Heathrow Airport operating as normal despite Border Force strikes

Heathrow Airport said it is operating as normal with minimal queuing in immigration halls despite the strike by Border Force workers.

A spokeswoman for the airport said: “Heathrow is fully operational, passengers are flowing through the border smoothly with Border Force and the military contingency providing a good level of service for arriving passengers.

“We are working to support Border Force’s plans to continue the smooth operation of the airport during this period of industrial action.”

(PA Archive)
Maryam Zakir-Hussain1 February 2023 07:59

Keegan “surprised” teachers not required to give strike warning

Ms Keegan has said she had been surprised to learn that teachers were not required to say in advance if they were taking part in Wednesday’s strike.

Ms Keegan said the legal position would remain “under review.”

“It was a surprise to some of us that was in fact the law. I did write to everybody urging them to be constructive, to let their heads know, and I am sure may teachers will have done that,” she told Times Radio.

“There are discussions around minimum service levels, minimum safety levels, around hospitals around rail – education is part of that bill as well.

“We are hoping not to use that, we are hoping to make sure we continue with constructive discussions and relationships but these things will always stay under review.”

Sam Rkaina1 February 2023 07:45

Education Secretary “disappointed” by teachers’ strike

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has said she “disappointed” that a strike by teachers in England and Wales is going ahead.

Ms Keegan told Times Radio the industrial action was unnecessary as discussions with the unions were continuing.

“I am disappointed that it has come to this, that the unions have made this decision. It is not a last resort. We are still in discussions. Obviously there is a lot of strike action today but this strike did not need to go ahead,” she said.

Ms Keegan said she did not know how many schools would be forced to closed due to the industrial action.

“We are hoping as many schools as possible stay open. We know that head teachers and other school leaders have been working really hard to keep schools open for as many kids as possible,” she said.

Education secretary Gillian Keegan
Education secretary Gillian Keegan (BBC)

Sam Rkaina1 February 2023 07:27

Today will be very difficult, Downing Street admits

Downing Street has conceded that today’s mass strike action will be “very difficult”.

Around half a million public service workers will walk out today including teachers, train drivers and civil servants.

Thousands of schools will be closed or partially closed and the bulk of Britain’s train network will be offline as talks to avoid the disruption failed.

Asked about the impact of the widespread action, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “We know that there will be significant disruption given the scale of the strike action that is taking place tomorrow and that will be very difficult for the public trying to go about their daily lives.

“We are upfront that this will disrupt people’s lives and that’s why we think negotiations rather than picket lines are the right approach.”

Liam James1 February 2023 07:00

Teachers’ union head on morning rounds

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), will be doing the morning news rounds today as around 200,000 teachers take the first of their seven planned strike days.

You can hear from Dr Bousted on BBC Radion 4’s Today programme at 7.10am, BBC Breakfast at 8.10, Sky News at 8.20, Channel 5 at 9 and BBC Woman’s Hour at 11.

On Monday Dr Bousted and Kevin Courtney, joint NEU general secretary, said: “We have continually raised our concerns with successive education secretaries about teacher and support staff pay and its funding in schools and colleges, but instead of seeking to resolve the issue they have sat on their hands.

“It is disappointing that the government prefers to talk about yet more draconian anti-strike legislation, rather than work with us to address the causes of strike action.”

Liam James1 February 2023 06:00

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