Union demands ‘economically disproportionate’, education secretary says biggest

A coordinated series of strikes involving teachers, civil servants, Border Force staff and train drivers, will see half a million workers strike across Britain today. It marks the single largest day of industrial action in more than a decade.

Around 85% of the 23,000 state schools in England and Wales will be closed in whole or in part, as teachers in England and Wales hold their first national strike since 2016 today.

The Department of Education has offered most teachers a 5% pay rise for the current school year, but the National Education Union (NEU) is demanding an inflation-adjusted pay rise.

In response to the latest round of strikes, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said public sector demands for double-digit pay rises were “economically disproportionate”.

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she said Times Radio: “If we give inflation, above-inflation wages go up to a small sector of people, that’s going to make inflation worse, it’s going to make it worse for everybody.

“It won’t work, it’s economically unviable. The most important thing to do is… deal with inflation otherwise everything will continue to eat into people’s pocket pounds. So we have to look after the whole country, we have to make sure that we do the right thing economically for everybody.”

Responding to reports that teachers are having to rely on food banks because they are not being paid enough, Ms Keegan blasted the idea as “not credible”.

she said Times Radio: “I go to my food bank a lot because I’m really interested in why people go to food banks and usually they’re there, everybody’s different, but they’re there in emergencies.

“I think Trussell Trust on average I think people have to use two food bank vouchers every year to get out of a crisis so that something like this happens and they’re there for an emergency and anyone who might find themselves in an emergency or A problem”.

Headteachers complained they were struggling to plan for the impact of the strike as teachers were instructed by union leaders not to tell them if they planned to attend work. Mrs Keegan said she was “surprised” to learn it was legal, adding: “I urged everyone to be constructive, to get their heads together, and I’m sure a lot of teachers have done that”.

He said later Sky News That legal position remains “under review”.

Also on strike today are train drivers from Asalaf and the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT), who are embroiled in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions.

About 600 military personnel are expected to be deployed today to mitigate the impact of the attack.

Another 24-hour strike will be held on Friday. The train drivers’ union has warned that more walkouts could follow, claiming talks to settle the pay dispute have “backtracked”.

Simon Weller, assistant general secretary of Assalef, said an initial proposal by negotiators from the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) last month was “designed to fail”. The offer was for an 8% salary increase over two years with strings attached.

The union was furious that it was immediately released to the press before reacting, saying the move had “broken all trust”.

Mark Serotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the largest trade union representing British civil servants, said: Sky News This morning that 40,000 government employees are now using food banks and 45,000 are claiming benefits at work.

He said people who are delivering “key decisions across the public service” have had their pay cut for 10 years in a row and now qualify for the national minimum wage.

“So there is a crisis of poverty at work”.