LONDON – Ambulance workers in the UK on Friday staged the latest in a string of strikes over low pay, as university staff also stopped work.
The walkout follows Monday's biggest round of health service strikes yet when nurses and ambulance staff walked out for the first time on the same day.
The strikes are part of a wave of industrial action that has seen workers in a range of sectors from lawyers to dock workers take to the streets over the past year.
Health staff say wages that have not kept pace with inflation over the past decade, combined with the current cost of living crisis, have left them struggling to pay their bills.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for pay rises to be “reasonable” and “affordable”, warning that big pay awards will jeopardise attempts to tame inflation.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on Friday said the government would not agree to funding big pay increases through “inflationary” borrowing.
“We should listen to the very clear warning from the Bank of England governor yesterday, who said that if you fund higher wage settlements through borrowing that is inflationary, and that's why it's a very difficult situation,” he said.
In Friday's strike action, about 15,000 members of Unison – the largest trade union representing staff in the state-run National Health Service (NHS) – walked out in five English regions.
Unison head of health Sara Gorton accused Mr Sunak of refusing to negotiate.
“The prime minister must ditch the pretence. It's time to come clean with people and admit the government's only plan is to sit tight and hope public opinion turns against health workers,” she said in a statement.
“But that's unlikely to happen. The public can see that by choosing not to negotiate, the government is condemning them to months of unnecessary disruption.”
Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said that Monday's strike action in the health service resulted in the cancellation of around 80,000 medical appointments and 11,000 inpatient procedures.
The disruption comes as the health service struggles to deal with a backlog caused by the pandemic.
Around 70,000 university staff, meanwhile, entered the second day of a 48-day stoppage.
About 150 universities were affected by the strike by members of the University and College Union (UCJ).