(Bloomberg) -- Britons should brace for “significant” disruption on Wednesday, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said on Tuesday, as hundreds of thousands of workers prepared to strike across the UK’s railways, schools and civil service.

Some 475,000 workers plan to take action on Wednesday over below-inflation pay rises in the midst of an unprecedented squeeze on living standards. Walkouts by teachers in particular are expected to have a knock-on effect because of the need for parents to stay at home to look after their children.

“We know there will be significant disruption given the scale of strike action,” Sunak’s spokesman Max Blain told reporters in London. “That will be very difficult for the public trying to go about their daily lives.”

Sunak’s administration is struggling to contain a growing wave of strikes while remaining determined not to increase public sector pay settlements for the current fiscal year, in an effort to control inflationary pressures. 

Sunak and Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt have further poisoned relations with labor unions by pushing legislation through Parliament guaranteeing minimum service levels in certain industries. That prompted the Trade Unions Congress, the umbrella body for unions, to hold a “protect the right to strike” day on Feb. 1. Teachers, university staff, railway workers, train drivers and civil servants all plan walkouts to mark it.

On Monday, firefighters voted to join the industrial action, giving ministers until Feb. 8 to make a “credible offer” on pay that would avert strikes.

Blain said “contingency planning” for any walkout by firefighters will be carried out in coming days, and that “significant planning work” to deal with industrial action is being led by cabinet minister Oliver Dowden. Some 600 military personnel trained to cover for striking border staff over the Christmas period are available to cover for other striking public service workers, Blain suggested.

--With assistance from Eamon Akil Farhat.

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