Parents bear brunt as teachers walk-out today alongside health service strike in Northern Ireland
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Most schools are expected to close until at least noon as members of several teaching unions take to the picket lines as a long-running dispute over pay escalates.
The schools’ walkout coincides with similar action by health staff as several unions stage a strike across Northern Ireland's health trusts.
In what is shaping up to be one of the most significant days of strike action in a year marked by a deterioration in industrial relations, a range of hospital and health workers – including nurses and ambulance staff – are due to be on picket lines throughout the Province.
Rallies are also due to take place in towns and cities across Northern Ireland, with the largest in Belfast city centre involving both teaching and health unions.
It is a scenario reflected across the UK, with thousands of ambulance workers having staged a fresh strike in England and Wales yesterday.
And they will soon be joined by junior doctors in England, after a majority of British Medical Association (BMA) members backed strike action.
The BMA in Northern Ireland, meanwhile, has said it is “assessing the pay and contractual landscape”.
Teaching unions say they have been left with “no choice” but to strike as they pursue a 12% pay rise to combat inflation.
Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary, said: “The failure of the Department of Education and employers to offer any improvements means we are left with no choice but to take this strike action.
“It is completely unacceptable to expect teachers’ pay to be cut again when we are facing the worst cost-of-living crisis seen for decades.
“Our members are not prepared to stand by while their pay packets shrink and their living costs rise.”
Justin McCamphill, the union’s national official for Northern Ireland, hinted at further strikes to come if a deal can’t be reached, saying: “The Department of Education and employers need to act swiftly to offer a fair pay rise or risk further strike action.”
The NASUWT, INTO, UTU and NEU unions are taking part in the schools strike today, while the Unison, Unite and Nipsa unions are taking part in the strike in the health service.
The chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland junior doctors committee, meanwhile, said there are currently no plans to follow the precedent set by their colleagues in England.
But Andrew Wilson said the doctors’ union had still to “decide the next steps”.
“Although there are currently no plans to ballot for industrial action in Northern Ireland, continuing workforce pressures and poor working conditions have meant that morale amongst junior doctors here is at an all-time low with many considering leaving employment with the health service in Northern Ireland,” the junior doctors’ committee chair said.
“To decide on what our next steps will be, we are assessing the pay and contractual landscape here, and are actively engaging with junior doctors here to get their views on what they want to change.”
On the decision to go on strike in England, Health Secretary Stephen Barclay said: “We hugely value the work of junior doctors and it is deeply disappointing some union members have voted for strike action. I’ve met with the BMA and other medical unions to discuss what is fair and affordable, as well as wider concerns around conditions and workload.”