Inflation-hit doctors announce strike to press UK authorities for pay hike

Published February 25, 2023
Travellers walk past an information sign as rail workers observe strike over pay and terms, at Waterloo Station in London. —Reuters/file
Travellers walk past an information sign as rail workers observe strike over pay and terms, at Waterloo Station in London. —Reuters/file

LONDON: Tens of thousands of junior doctors in England will take strike action for three days from March 13 in a dispute over pay, the British Medical Association (BMA) said on Friday, adding to a series of walkouts by other staff in a strained health system.

Junior doctors, who agreed in 2019 to an annual 2 per cent pay rise as part of a four-year deal, say that is now inadequate in light of much higher inflation.

“We are demoralised, angry and no longer willing to work for wages that have seen a real terms decline of over 26 per cent in the past 15 years,” the BMA, which represents nearly 50,000 junior doctors, said in a statement.

“This, together with the stress and exhaustion of working in an NHS in crisis, has brought us to this moment, brought us to a 72-hour walkout.” Junior doctors are qualified physicians, often with several years of experience, who work under the guidance of senior doctors and represent a sizeable chunk of Britain’s workforce of doctors.

Rail union accepts offer of 9pc raise in salaries

The strikes will heap more pressure on Britain’s state-funded National Hea­lth Service which is already stretched by staff shortages and record backlogs, and is now experiencing waves of disruptive strike action by health workers.

While nurses have paused strikes scheduled for March as their union holds talks with the government, ambulance and other health workers are planning further strike action.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s deputy spokesperson said news of the junior doctors’ strike was “disappointing”.

“The Health Secretary met recently with the BMA to discuss what is fair and affordable, and we would encourage the unions to continue with dialogue rather than strike action,” the spokesperson told reporters.

The Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association said the fewer than 1,000 junior doctors in its membership would also stage a separate three-day strike from March 13.

Rail union

Meanwhile, members of one of the rail unions involved in a series of strikes in Britain sparked by the cost-of-living crisis have voted to accept pay offers from train companies.

Other unions, however, have announced fresh action in the coming weeks.

The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) said its 3,000 members had voted overwhelmingly in favour of deals that include a two-year pay rise worth nine per cent.

The result means ballots for any further strikes will be withdrawn, the union said.

The stoppages were part of a wave of industrial action that has included nurses, ambulance staff, teachers and civil servants. They have all clashed with the government, which insists the country cannot afford inflation-busting pay hikes.

A TSSA spokesman said of their vote: “This is a clear decision from our members which will end our long-running dispute — something which could have happened months ago had it not been for Government intransigence.” The members’ action had won a significantly improved pay deal.

The TSSA is just one of the rail unions whose members have taken industrial action in recent weeks. ASLEF and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) have also staged strikes. However, the RMT is expected to push ahead with its plans to hold four days of walkouts over the next two months, starting on March 16.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2023

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