Nurses begin historic strike across UK as risk of more walkouts grows

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Nurses have begun a round of historic strikes as Britain faces the prospect of heightened industrial action extending into next year.

The Royal College of Nursing said that as many as 100,000 staff would take part in Thursday’s strike across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in protest over a below-inflation pay offer. The walkouts will affect hospitals such as Guy’s, St Thomas’s, and Great Ormond Street in London, and be repeated on December 20.

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Pat Cullen, the RCN’s general secretary, called the strikes a “tragic first,” adding: “Nursing staff on picket lines is a sign of failure on the part of governments. It is by far the most widespread nurses’ strike in the history of Britain’s health service.”

The RCN could announce extra strikes dates for 2023 next week if a pay deal is not agreed, the Times newspaper in London reported.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday that the government has “consistently spoken to all unions involved in pay disputes,” adding that it had responded to nurses’ requests for more training and money for nursing students, while also awarding them a pay rise last year when the pay of other public sector workers was frozen.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour party, said the walkouts were a “badge of shame for the government.”

Strikes have spread across a number of sectors and include rail staff, ambulance drivers, postal workers and civil servants.

Ministers will meet Mick Lynch, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ general secretary, today alongside representatives from Network Rail and train companies.

The RMT has refused to accept recent pay offers and is planning strikes across Christmas and into the new year.

Another labor group, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, will announce Thursday whether its members have accepted a pay offer from Network Rail. The deal has already been accepted by the Unite union, leaving the RMT — which successfully advised its members to reject to offer — as the final union holding out for a better deal. Talks with the train companies are separate, and have not yet resulted in a breakthrough.

Read more: Rail strikes and freezing weather turn the City of London Into a ghost town

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