Strikes in Britain set to intensify as teacher ballot results due

By William James

LONDON (Reuters) - Strikes disrupting swathes of the British economy look likely to intensify this week, with teachers ready to announce industrial action, according to the Sunday Times, and nurses warning their strikes could double in size next month.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government, which sets pay levels in the publicly-funded health and education services, is already dealing with strikes in rail and other industries as wages increases fall behind rapidly rising prices.

The result of a ballot among teachers belonging to the National Education Union is due at 1700 GMT on Monday, but the Sunday Times cited union sources as saying members in England and Wales had voted to back strikes beginning in February.

The union did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report. Last week, a strike ballot by a different teachers' union fell short of the required turnout threshold.

If teacher strikes are confirmed on Monday it would add to the disruption experienced by millions of people in Britain over the last six months, during which train strikes have crippled transport networks and ambulances workers have on two dates so far refused to respond to all but the most serious calls.

Transport minister Mark Harper told Sky News on Sunday that any decision to strike by teachers would be regrettable.

With inflation running at more than 10%, driven in part by sharp increases in energy costs following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the government has said it cannot afford big wage increases and did not want to embed higher inflation in the economy through pay rises.

Nevertheless, Harper said he had given permission for rail companies to make a new offer to unions, offering tentative signs that a deal could be in the offing although he refused to set any timetable for that.

Elsewhere, the disruption looked set to continue.

The Royal College of Nursing, some of whose members walked out last month and will do so again on Wednesday and Thursday, warned that their next round of strikes could be more severe, with double the number of nurses in England to walk out in February unless a resolution is found.

(Reporting by William James. Editing by Jane Merriman)