LONDON (Reuters) -The British government and teaching unions agreed on Friday to begin “intensive” talks to end strikes by hundreds of thousands of teachers in England who say they are overburdened and underpaid.
Teachers could be one step closer to ending a wave of strike action that has left classrooms empty for several days this year and heaped pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to help resolve the dispute.
Britain is experiencing its worst wave of worker unrest since the 1980s, with strikes over pay affecting almost every aspect of daily life as inflation runs at a four-decade high of more than 10%.
The government and teaching unions said the National Education Union (NEU) — the largest striking union — would maintain a “period of calm” for two weeks in which no fresh strikes would be announced.
“The Education Secretary and all unions will meet (on Friday), beginning intensive talks, which will continue over the weekend,” the government and the unions said in a joint statement, adding that they hoped to reach “a successful conclusion”.
It comes a day after healthcare unions and the government agreed on a new offer of a 5% pay rise for the coming financial year, potentially bringing an end to separate strikes by tens of thousands of nurses and paramedics.
Teachers staged their latest strikes across England this week, coinciding with the government’s annual budget.
The NEU, which says teachers have seen a 23% real-terms pay cut since 2010, has called for an above-inflation pay award funded fully by the government, so that schools can use existing funds to cover costs ranging from stationery to school trips.
The government has argued that higher pay rises would only worsen inflation.
In Wales, the NEU is consulting members on a new offer from the devolved Welsh government, comprising an additional 3% pay award for 2022/23 alongside a 1.5% one-off payment, and a government-funded 5% rise for the following year.
Scotland’s largest teaching union has also accepted a pay deal to end long-running strikes, which it said would amount to a 14.6% increase in pay for most teachers by January 2024.
(Reporting by William James and Farouq Suleiman; Writing by Sachin Ravikumar, editing by Sarah Young, Kylie MacLellan and Vinay Dwivedi)