British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised to become “tough” members various unions in the UK have called a strike or announced plans to walk out of work in a number of industries that threaten the holiday.
Sunak told parliament he would “take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public” if “union leaders continue to be unreasonable”.
“My priority is to make sure I keep people safe and minimize the disruption to their lives, and I will do whatever it takes to do that,” Sunak said.
Postal workers, rail workers, ambulance drivers, Scottish teachers and nurses are among a group calling for strike action in the biggest wave of departures in Britain since 1989. The number includes more than 20,000 ambulance workers who will walk out on December 21, joining more than 115,000 Royal Mail postal workers who walked out on Friday with plans to continue the strike on December 14, 15, 23 and 24. the BBC reports.
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Unions and employers are deadlocked in negotiations over pay increases and reductions in layoffs – or downsizing – as they face a higher cost of living. Inflation has pushed energy levels to their highest prices in decades as many people struggle to stay warm in winter.
Public and Commercial Services Union general secretary Mark Serwotka told Reuters the groups had chosen Christmas for their walkouts as a “last resort” to “make sure the action we’re calling for is seen”.
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Immigration Secretary Robert Gerrick said using Christmas as a pulpit was “unjustified” to threaten thousands of families and businesses, and that the government would work with “all UK ports and airports and have robust plans to minimize any delays”.
The number of striking groups will continue to grow over the coming weeks, with highways and border workers set to strike on Christmas Eve and continue until the holiday.
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Border Patrol agents oversee passport checks at major airports and customs, meaning travelers may spend hours or see little traffic through major checkpoints when traveling over the Christmas season.
Royal Mail has advised residents to send Christmas letters and parcels earlier than usual to avoid delays due to the strike.
Sunak and Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer clashed over the union row, with Sunak accusing Starmer of not “standing up for working people” while Starmer claimed Sunak was “big” and should “fix these issues”.
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The general secretary of the Congress of Trade Unions, Frais O’Grady, called on the two leaders to stop “political jokes” and start negotiations on wages. Starmer said Labor would oppose “unworkable” legislation on minimum service levels, but Sunak insisted his government had taken a sensible position and accepted independent reviews of appropriate pay.