LONDON (Reuters) -- Teachers in England and Wales were set to announce strike action later on Monday, joining nurses, rail workers and others in staging industrial action in a further headache for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government.
The Sunday Times cited union sources as saying members in England and Wales had voted to back strikes beginning in February.
National Education Union (NEU) joint general secretary Mary Bousted said she favored staging a walkout on Feb. 1, the date 100,000 public sector workers are due to strike in what could become Britain’s biggest day of coordinated industrial action for decades.
Sunak is coming under increasing pressure to try to resolve pay disputes with hundreds of thousands of workers following months of strikes which have caused widespread disruption.
With inflation running at more than 10%, workers from multiple sectors are demanding higher wages.
The NEU, the largest education union in the United Kingdom with around 500,000 members, said the government had offered its members a 5% pay rise which it says equates to a pay cut due to spiraling prices. Low pay for teachers has pushed many to leave the profession, the union said.
The government has said it cannot afford big wage rises and warned that any big boost to salaries would exacerbate the inflation problem.
Bousted told Sky News the NEU’s internal polling suggested it would meet the threshold for strikes.
“We will know at 5pm tonight, we will declare the pattern of action then,” she said.
Last week, a strike ballot by a different teachers’ union in England fell short of the required turnout threshold. A union for headteachers in England and Wales will also announce on Monday whether it will proceed with strike action.
Teachers in England last held a strike in 2016 but the majority of schools remained open. A larger scale walkout by teachers took place in 2008.
Teachers in Scotland have already held strikes which have closed many schools. On Monday they began a rolling 16-day walkout which will impact two local authorities each day.
A decision by teachers to strike would be “regrettable” Transport Minister Mark Harper said on Sunday.
While there are hopes that a new offer for rail workers could end walkouts in that sector, nursing representatives have warned their strikes could intensify.
Members of the Royal College of Nursing will strike on Wednesday and Thursday, and the union has warned their next round of strikes could be more severe, with double the number of nurses in England to walk out in February unless a resolution is found.