UK sets out plans to try to keep schools open during strikes

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Friday set out plans to try to keep schools open during any future strikes, drawing immediate criticism from trade unions who said the move would impede their right to take industrial action.

The country has been severely disrupted for more than a year by strikes across crucial sectors, triggered by high inflation and stagnant pay growth.

The government passed a bill in July requiring striking workers in key sectors such as rail, ambulance and fire services to provide minimum levels of service during industrial action.

Ministers are keen to expand the regulations to other sectors.

“Last year’s school strikes were some of the most disruptive on record for children, and their parents,” education minister Gillian Keegan said in a statement, referring to the September to July school year.

“We cannot afford a repeat of that disruption – particularly as schools and teachers continue to work so hard to help children recover from the pandemic.”

Teachers voted to end strike action and accept a government pay offer in July.

But, on Friday unions said they strongly opposed the introduction of minimum service levels.

“The Government would get further in minimising industrial action and disruption to schools if it engaged with unions on the issues that give rise to ballots,” said Daniel Kebede, General Secretary of the National Education Union which represents over 450,000 teachers.

The government estimates that walkouts in the last academic year led to the loss of 25 million school days cumulatively. 

Keegan has invited union leaders to make voluntary agreements but would use powers granted through the recently-introduced Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act if a deal cannot be reached.

(Reporting by Muvija M; editing by William James)