Up to 600,000 council workers are staging a 48-hour strike from this morning as part of the long-running dispute over public sector pay.
The walkout is being held by members of the Unison and Unite trade unions in protest at a below-inflation pay award of 2.45%.
The National Association of Head Teachers predicted that up to one-third of primary and secondary schools in England, Wales and Northern Ireland could close, with thousands more affected by strike action by teaching assistants, nurses, caretakers and cafeteria workers today and tomorrow.
The action coincides with the start of a week of strikes by as many as 100,000 civil servant members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).
Driving examiners and members of the Valuation Agency Office are striking today, and will be followed by immigration services officers, coast-guards and Land Registry workers angry at pension and pay conditions.
Unison is also threatening to reopen a three-year deal for health workers, and has pledged “sustained action” over local government pay this summer if its 6% claim isn’t met.
“The employers are sitting on billions of pounds – money that our members have saved through their hard work and efficiency – which should be used to settle this account,” said Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of union umbrella body TUC, said: “Council workers across the UK are on strike in protest at the inadequate pay offer made to them by the local authority employers.
“I urge the local government employers to return to the negotiating table and reach a fair and just settlement of this dispute.”
But Jan Parkinson, managing director of Local Government Employers, insisted the strikes would not lead to higher pay.
“Strikes will not change the fact that our last offer was our final offer,” she said. “The settlement on the table is affordable for the council taxpayer and will also make sure that local government continues to be an attractive place to work.”