The boss of one of Britain’s biggest transport unions called for coordinated strikes involving tens of thousands of public sector workers including teachers, firefighters and nurses, just as junior doctors consider joining the wave of industrial unrest.

“We need to maximize our influence and leverage up across hopefully everyone that’s involved in a dispute,” Mick Lynch, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers said. “So that’ll be teachers, health care. I think we’ve got the fire brigade coming into it soon.”

Lynch spoke January 6 from a picket line on the fourth of five days of train strikes that have crippled much of the U.K.’s rail network. “I hope there will be a spirit of coordination,” he added.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government is grappling with a wave of strikes that’s causing widespread disruption to public services. The Royal Mail, public transport workers, National Health Service staff, the Border Force and other parts of the civil service are all striking.

Most disputes center around pay, with workers demanding raises that keep pace with Britain’s double-digit inflation.

A union representing junior doctors said January 6 it would hold a 72-hour strike in March if members vote for action in a ballot starting January 9. Teachers in England and Wales are currently being balloted on strikes over pay, with a walkout expected in the coming months if they support it. Ballots close on January 13.
And after striking in December, nurses and ambulance workers are slated to take action again later in January.


The government has so far refused to offer pay hikes for public sector workers beyond the levels suggested by pay review bodies that it says are independent. On January 5, it invited union bosses to talks on 2024’s public sector pay settlements, but made no mention of those for 2023.

Talks resume January 9, but Lynch was not hopeful of a breakthrough. Unions have also been angered by government plans to bring in new legislation enforcing minimum service levels during strikes.
While the government has said the legislation will be published in “coming weeks,” an official familiar with the matter said it could come as soon as January 10.

Sunak on January 6 said he’s “hopeful” the talks can go ahead on January 9 and that “all” union leaders have been invited.

“I fully believe in the unions’ role in our society and the freedom for them to strike,” Sunak told broadcasters. “But I also believe that that should be balanced with the right of ordinary working people to go about their lives free from significant disruption.”


He said the proposed laws would be similar to those in countries such as France, Italy and Spain.
Meanwhile the Royal College of Nursing urged the government to meet it “halfway” on pay, amid signs of a softening position ahead of more planned strikes this month.

The union has been pushing for a 19% pay raise for its members, but general secretary Pat Cullen signaled on a Times Radio podcast that she was ready to make a significant compromise. It means the RCN could be willing to accept a rise of about 10% to end its dispute.

Cullen urged Sunak and Health Secretary Steve Barclay to “get into a room and meet me halfway here. Do the decent thing for these nurses.”

Sunak has so far stuck with the advice of an independent pay review body, which has seen average nurses’ pay rise by around 4%.

Cullen welcomed the premier’s call for discussions on next year’s pay settlement, but warned on Times Radio “we need to sort out something for this year to send a message out to the nursing staff of this country that have held us all together that they’re valued, but they can also pay their bills and don’t have to be reduced going to food banks.”