Christina McAnea, general secretary of UNISON, speaks in front of ambulance workers at a picket line outside the Waterloo ambulance station in London on December 21, 2022. - Striking UK ambulance workers took to the picket lines, escalating a dispute with the government over its refusal to increase pay above inflation after recent walkouts by nurses. (Photo by Niklas HALLE'N / AFP)

Striking ambulance workers in England and Wales manned picket lines on Wednesday, escalating a pay dispute between the government and a host of public-sector staff.

A series of stoppages are causing misery across Britain in the run-up to Christmas, with railway workers and passport control officers set to hinder festive holiday getaways as the government resists the growing pay demands.

Employees across the UK economy are demanding salary rises to match or beat decades-high inflation — currently running at nearly 11 percent — which is spurring the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

“We’re not paid enough for what we deserve,” 24-year-old paramedic Kirsten Reid said in Crawley, southern England. “Secondly, patient safety is a huge thing… our response times are shocking, and they need to be better.” “We do 12-hour shifts with a 30-minute break, but they’re rarely ever 12-hour shifts. We’re usually overrun,” she added.

The government and unions continue to trade blame over the strikes amid fears of possible loss of life, as healthcare leaders warned about straining a system already in crisis.

On Tuesday, thousands of members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland took to picket lines, five days after their first strike in its 106-year history.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay, writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, accused the unions of making a “conscious decision” to “inflict harm” on patients. GMB union national secretary, Rachel Harrison, hit back calling his comments “insulting”.

“Ambulance workers are seething at such a crude, insulting attempt to divert attention from the government’s continued chaos in the NHS,” she said.

Around a dozen staff formed the picket line outside the ambulance base in Crawley.

“My members are striking today for fair pay. At the end of the day, they’ve had a 20 percent pay cut over the last 10 years, and they can no longer afford to keep going with that,” GMB union representative Lib Whitfield said.

Outside the West Midlands Ambulance Services’ hub in Longford in central England, striking staff stood behind a banner reading “our NHS is under siege”.

As passing ambulances sounded their horns in support, union representative Steve Thompson called on the government to “wake up and realise that this situation is serious”.

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