London, Dec 15 (EFE).- Nurses in the United Kingdom took part in the largest strike in the history of the National Health Service on Thursday as they became the latest to join a wave of walkouts in December.
Ambulance drivers, railway workers, postal workers, border agents, baggage handlers and Eurostar security officers, among other professional sectors, have all scheduled strikes before and during the Christmas season.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN), a union representing a group in which nearly 90% are women, is demanding a 19% pay rise in response to the increase in inflation in recent months and a loss of purchasing power over the last decade.
The union is demanding an increase of 5% above the Retail Price Index (RPI), usually the benchmark for collective bargaining, which in November reached 14%.
Pat Cullen, general secretary of the RCN, met this week without reaching an agreement with the British Minister of Health, Steve Barclay, who has closed the door to further wage hikes.
A spokesman for prime minister Rishi Sunak said Thursday that there are no plans to review the government’s intention to increase the sector’s salaries by the 4.75% recommended in July by an independent body.
The nurses’ strike, which will be repeated on Tuesday, has meant more than 70,000 medical visits and surgeries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been canceled, according to official data.
Staffing in emergency departments was reduced to holiday-like levels, and units such as dialysis, neonatal and intensive care were still running, according to the RCN.
The secretary general of the union has warned that unless the government changes its approach the strikes could be “the beginning of a longer period of actions”.
Groups of demonstrators rallied in front of hospitals and health centers early on Thursday morning, when in much of the United Kingdom temperatures were several degrees below zero.
“We study for at least three years and then continue studying after graduating. All of us put in a lot of work, we all work overtime, unpaid. I think we should be paid a fair wage for what we do,” Clare Cremin, a nurse with 16 years of experience, told Efe outside St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
The UK government has been facing repeated strikes since the summer, fueled by soaring inflation this year. EFE