After the nurses, British paramedics stopped work on Wednesday to demand a raise in their salaries. The government stands firm and accuses them of “knowingly” harming the sick.
Social protest grows in the face of inflation that exceeds 10% and the worsening of the cost of living crisis. Relations are tense between the strikers and the Conservative government, which has closed the door to any discussion of wages and considers demands for raises “unaffordable”.
The social movement affects multiple sectors: railways, logistics, border police, postal services, etc. But the paramedics strike is putting particular pressure on the government because of the risks it poses for patients who would need to be hospitalized urgently.
Acknowledging “very heavy pressure” on the ambulance service – already overstretched in normal times – due to the strikes, Health Minister Steve Barclay urged the public “to use common sense when it comes to the activities you carry out”. In The Daily Telegraph, he accuses ambulance unions “of knowingly choosing to harm patients”.
Days longer than twelve hours
“This is a truly offensive statement for paramedics and NHS staff,” responded public health service Rachel Harrison, national secretary for the GMB union.
The medical director of NHS England urged the public to drink alcohol in moderation. “Today will be a very difficult day for the health service,” Professor Stephen Powis told the BBC. “But we work closely with unions to ensure that emergency services for life-threatening illnesses, including strokes and heart attacks, are maintained.”
Several pickets appeared on Wednesday morning. “We don’t get enough,” laments Kirsten Reid, a 24-year-old paramedic interviewed by AFP, who explains that she works more than 12 hours a day. Surrounded by her colleagues in Crawley, south London, she worries daily about working conditions and “patient safety”: “We are not looking after our patients on time”.
For Lib Whitfield, local representative of the GMB union, employees have suffered “a 20% pay cut in the last ten years”, marked by large austerity measures. “They can no longer afford to go on like this.”
For Rachel Harrison, national secretary of the GMB union, “it is up to the government to end this dispute now”. But “by refusing to talk to the wage unions, it is the government that chooses for this conflict to continue”.
The paramedics’ strike comes a day after the unprecedented nurses’ strike. This trade has become a symbol of the cost of living crisis.
On Tuesday night, her union, the Royal College of Nursing, gave the government an ultimatum, giving it two days to agree on wages. Otherwise, there will be new strikes after Christmas.
But before the heads of parliamentary committees, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak remained adamant on Tuesday: “I recognize that it is difficult. It is difficult for everyone, because inflation is where it is.”
“The best way … to help everyone in the country is to pull ourselves together and bring inflation down as quickly as possible,” he said.
The government took a very firm stand and promised to legislate to limit the possibilities for strikes. He is, however, pressured by these health movements, which have strong support from the population.
Nurses were at the forefront during the Covid-19 pandemic and are suffering a crisis that has affected the respected free public health system for years, which has been subjected to severe austerities for 12 years.
This article was automatically published. Sources: ats/afp