After announcing that the government accepted the recommendations of independent bodies on civil servants' salaries, the Conservative leader stressed that the proposals for increases, from 5 to 7% depending on the sector, were the last.

"There will be no more salary discussions," Sunak said. "We will not negotiate again" and "no strike will change our decision," he warned at a press conference.

The announced increases are notably 6.5% for teachers – who have announced the suspension of their movement – 7% for the police, 6% for some hospital doctors and 5% for the military.

Teachers' unions have announced that they are suspending their upcoming strikes. Mr. Sunak, on the other hand, failed to convince in the health sector.

To finance these increases, Rishi Sunak has ruled out borrowing or raising taxes and evoked "reprioritizations", raising fears of cuts in public spending.

He notably announced the increase in the cost of visas and the amount paid by immigrants to access the public health system, to earn one billion pounds sterling (1.17 billion euros).

"Junior doctors" protest in front of St. Thomas Hospital, July 13, 2023 in London © HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP

In response, a migrant aid organisation, Praxis, accused the government of treating those not born in the UK as "cash cows".

The United Kingdom, which has 5.8 million civil servants, has seen an increase in strikes in recent months in both the private and public sectors due to wage demands in the face of inflation. In May, it stood at 8.7% over one year, a record among the G7 countries.

Right to strike "weakened"

Junior doctors, who make up about half of hospital doctors, ranging from young doctors fresh out of university to practitioners with more than eight years' experience, began a new strike in England at 07:00 (06 GMT) on Thursday, until Tuesday.

This is their longest continuous strike in the history of the NHS, the British public health service, which recently celebrated its 75th anniversary, according to the BMA (British Medical Association) union.

"Junior doctors" protest in front of St. Thomas Hospital, July 13, 2023 in London © HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP

The "consultants", more qualified doctors, have filed a strike notice for July 20 and 21.

The proposal of 6%, which the BMA says corresponds to a pay cut in real terms, is "exactly what so many doctors feel they have no choice" than to strike, responded Phil Banfield, one of the leaders of the union, lamenting a "missed opportunity".

The NHS, to which the British are very attached, is going through a deep crisis, weakened by austerity policies and the consequences of the pandemic.

According to BMA figures, some 7.42 million people were waiting for treatment in England in April, with just over 3 million patients waiting for more than 18 months.

"Last chance"

"The NHS has operated thanks to the goodwill (of its staff) and now is the last chance to change that," said Arjan Singh, a 27-year-old doctor, participating in a picket line Thursday morning in London outside University College Hospital.

While thousands of positions are already vacant within the NHS, some of his colleagues are considering moving abroad, he added.

Demonstration for a fairer wage in front of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, on April 12, 2023 in London © Daniel LEAL / AFP / Archives

The BMA claims that junior doctors have lost 26% of remuneration in real terms since 2008, when an austerity cure was imposed on the health services.

In a statement issued just before the start of the strike, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said the union's starting position was "unreasonable".

Meanwhile, unions won a court victory on Thursday after challenging a law authorizing the use of temporary workers to replace striking workers. The High Court in London ruled in favour of more than ten trade unions who considered that this law "weakened the right to strike".

© 2023 AFP