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UK hit by worst month for strikes in 11 years

The United Kingdom recorded the highest number of working days lost to labour disputes in October for more than 10 years, official data showed on Tuesday, as employees went on strike to demand higher pay in the face of soaring inflation.

The data comes as more than 40,000 railway workers begin their latest round of walkouts on Tuesday in a long-running dispute over pay and conditions, causing widespread disruption to the country’s transport network.

The Office for National Statistics said 417,000 working days were lost to strikes in October, the highest since November 2011 when just under a million days were lost due to public sector workers walking out in a row over pension reforms.

Between June and October this year, more than 1.1 million working days were lost, the ONS figures showed the highest in a five-month period since early 1990.

Workers across a range of sectors have gone on strike in recent months, from rail workers to teachers, postal staff to lawyers, as inflation, which hit a 41-year high of 11.1% in October, squeezes household budgets.

While some smaller, mostly private sector disputes have been resolved, the government has so far refused to budge on public sector pay and is instead looking to tighten laws to make it harder for those in key sectors to strike.

The government says the pay rises being demanded are unaffordable and hiking pay to match inflation would only worsen the problem.

Strikes are due to take place nearly every day in December, with nurses set to walk out on Thursday for the first time in their union’s history.

Following a meeting with the health minister on Monday, the head of the Royal College of Nursing union, Pat Cullen, said the government had refused to discuss pay.

Union estimates forecast more than 1 million working days will be lost in December, making it the worst month for disruption since July 1989.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas