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Ministers Reject Criticism Of Scottish Gender Law Veto, Education Secretary "Extremely Disappointed" By Teachers' Strike


5 min read

The education secretary has rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s criticism of the government’s plan to block new gender reform laws passed by Holyrood.

Speaking to Sky News, Gillian Keegan said she “wouldn’t agree” with the Scottish First Minister’s claims that the move equated to a “full-frontal attack”.

The government is using powers under the Scotland Act, the legislation with which the devolved Scottish government was created, that have never before been used to block laws passed in Holyrood.

“The Scotland Act deliberately was set up with this power in it... anticipating that there could be times when legislation, when it looked a bit messy, or there was legislation which could potentially be competing [with UK law],” Keegan said.

“It was legislation written by a Labour government, voted for by the SNP, so everybody agreed on the Scotland Act and the structure of it and the fact that there would be this power and when it was to be used.”

She added that the UK could not have a “lack of clarity” regarding gender recognition laws, and said government concerns related to there being “two schemes” for gender recognition across the union.

Sturgeon claimed on Monday that the UK government was using trans people as a "political weapon", and said it would be an "outrage" if the law was blocked.

"It doesn't affect the operation of the equality act and it was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament after very lengthy and intense scrutiny by MSPs of all parties," she said.

Education secretary “extremely disappointed” by teacher strike action

Teachers in England and Wales are set to go on strike (Alamy)

Education secretary Gillian Keegan has said she is “extremely disappointed” by planned walkouts by teachers announced by the National Education Union (NEU) on Monday.

Teachers in England and Wales are set to go on strike on 1 February, as well as 15 and 16 March, with additional strikes planned in some regions, affecting around 23,400 schools.

Keegan told Times Radio she was “hoping that heads can keep as many schools open as possible for as many children as possible”.

"I am extremely disappointed and disappointed for parents and children mostly. Children have been through so much with the pandemic,” she continued.

The NEU is holding the action over pay levels as rising inflation fails to keep up with public sector wages.

Teachers saw a pay rise of 5 per cent in 2022, far below the current rate of inflation which stands at 10.7 per cent.

Speaking to Sky News, Keegan insisted that the government had discussed pay in talks with the NEU, despite the union claiming the matter was not raised by ministers in meetings.

“We talked about pay we talked about mostly in relation to the Pay Review body of next year,” she said.

She added that the talks had been a “wider discussion” on pay, and that further meetings with teaching unions will be held this week.

Additional strikes involving head teachers and support staff will not go ahead, after NAHT and NEU ballots failed to meet the required response threshold.

The NAHT union, which represents head teachers, has said it will re-run the ballot as they claim the results were impacted by strike action in the postal service.

Pay rising at fastest rate in 20 years but lags behind inflation

Workers are still seeing their real term wages fall (Alamy)

New data by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown that wages have risen by 6.4 per cent in the three months to November – the highest increase since records began in 2001.

Workers are still seeing their real term wages fall, however, as income fails to keep pace with inflation which currently stands at 10.7 per cent. 

Pay fell by 2.6 per cent between November and September 2022 compared to the same period last year.

The pay gap between the private and public sector continues to remain at a record high, with private sector wages growing by 7.2 per cent while public sector employees saw a rise of 3.3 per cent.

Unemployment remains low at 3.6 per cent in the three months to July 2022, only slightly above the lowest levels on record seen in 1974.

Responding to the figures, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the UK labour market “remains resilient” despite facing “global challenges”.

"The single best way to help people's wages go further is to stick to our plan to halve inflation this year,” he said.

“We must not do anything that risks permanently embedding high prices into our economy, which will only prolong the pain for everyone."

467,000 working days lost due to strikes as industrial action escalates

The UK has now seen the greatest number of strike days since 1990 (Alamy)

A total of 467,000 working days were lost due to strikes in November 2022, the highest monthly figure since 2011.

The latest figure brings the number of days lost to strikes in 2022 to a 30-year high, with ONS figures showing that 1,628,000 days were lost between June and November.

The UK has now seen the greatest number of strike days since 1990, when around 1.9 million days lost.

November’s figures mean 2022 now surpasses levels seen in 2011, when approximately 1.4 million days were lost due to strikes driven by pension reforms.

But the UK is yet to come close to the number of days lost in 1979, when the “Winter of Discontent” saw almost 29.5 million days lost as workers walked out.

2022’s record-breaking figures were driven by a series of strikes across multiple sectors including the NHS, civil servants, baggage handlers and postal workers.

Further strikes are planned across the coming months, with nurses set to hold fresh strikes on 6 and 7 February, and junior doctors currently voting on potential action.

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Read the most recent article written by Eleanor Langford - Who Is Going On Strike And When In February?