Nurses across most of Britain will next month hold the first strikes in their union’s 106-year history, joining a host of other U.K. workers taking industrial action over pay.
Staff in England, Wales and Northern Ireland — but not Scotland — will walk out on Dec. 15 and 20, after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) union said the government had turned down an offer of negotiations.
It will be the latest industrial action in Britain, where decades-high inflation and a cost-of-living crisis have prompted staff in various sectors to demand pay increases to keep up with soaring prices.
The nurses’ strike will be sandwiched between the first of a series of two-day walkouts by national railway workers, while postal service employees will stage fresh stoppages in the run-up to Christmas.
Numerous other public and private sector staff, from lawyers to airport ground personnel, have also held strikes this year.
“Nursing staff have had enough of being taken for granted, enough of low pay and unsafe staffing levels, enough of not being able to give our patients the care they deserve,” said RCN head Pat Cullen.
The union, which wants a pay raise significantly above inflation, announced earlier this month that a ballot of its more than 300,000 members had found a majority in favor of strikes.
“Ministers have had more than two weeks since we confirmed that our members felt such injustice that they would strike for the first time,” Cullen said, adding that an offer of formal negotiations was declined.
“They have the power and the means to stop this by opening serious talks that address our dispute.”
The RCN will next week announce which particular arms of Britain’s sprawling state-funded National Health Service (NHS) will be affected by the walkouts.
Amid the waves of industrial action, British inflation has continued its recent surge, reaching a 41-year high of 11.1% in October on jumps in energy and food costs.
Bosses in the NHS said in September that nurses were skipping meals to feed and clothe their children and struggling to afford rising transportation costs.
One in four hospitals had set up foodbanks to support staff, according to NHS Providers, which represents hospital groups in England.
The government says it has accepted independent pay recommendations and given over 1 million NHS workers a pay increase of at least $1,590 this year.
In Scotland, the union has paused announcing strike action after the devolved government in Edinburgh, which has responsibility for health policy, reopened pay talks.
Other U.K. health unions are also balloting workers for industrial action, while ambulance staff in Scotland are due to walk out Monday.
Meanwhile, across the wider economy, numerous sectors are set to continue their strikes into the new year.