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The data that shows which strikers have the best case... and the most support

Strikes NHS train drivers civil servants
Strikes NHS train drivers civil servants

It’s one of the largest strikes the UK has seen in a decade. Today, Wednesday Feb 1, nearly 500,000 workers across the civil service, rail network and schools are poised to walk out.

Within a week, they’ll have been joined by thousands of ambulance workers and nurses, striking on February 6 as disputes over pay in the public sector gather pace. It’s controversial – so how many people do the unions estimate will strike, what do they want and how likely is it they will get it?

Nurses’ strike

• Potential strikers: “Tens of thousands” expected
• Unions involved: Royal College of Nurses
• Days of strikes: 6 (Dec 2022 to Mar 2023)
• Average pay (change from 2011): £37,255 (-8%)
• Public support: 66%
• Pay demands: 19%
• Current offer: 4.75%, and 2% mooted for this year
• Strike ballot: 102 of 215 trusts voted to strike

Nurses were lauded as heroes over Covid, a fact which has resulted in two-thirds of the public supporting their strikes.

In 2021, nurses were spared the pay freeze which hit other public sector workers after the pandemic.

But despite recent efforts to increase pay, the average full-time nurse’s income has fallen from £40,508 to £37,255 once adjusted for inflation.

Just under half of all trusts actually have the mandate to strike and the regional impacts are vast.

For example, two-thirds of hospitals in the South West will see walkouts compared to one in five in London and the Midlands.

Ambulance strike

• Potential strikers: Over 10,000
• Unions involved: GMB and Unite
• Days of strikes: 7 (Dec ’22 to Mar ’23)
• Average salary (change from 2011): £49,909 for paramedics (+3%), £27,515 for other staff (-9%) 
• Public support: 63%
• Pay demands: At least 9.6%
• Current offer: 4%
• Strike ballot: 9 out of 10 trusts voted with at least one union

Ambulance staff are a rare breed amongst other medical staff.

While nurses, physiotherapists and doctors have seen real-terms pay declines, the average paramedic’s salary has increased from £48,600 to £49,900 in real-terms over the past decade.

However, the four per cent increase put forward by the Government will push pay growth into the negative over the year with inflation still soaring.

Ambulance unions will also point out that away from the frontline, ambulance support staff are paid on average £27,500 a year, a decline on a decade ago.

Not every ambulance worker will walk out on Feb 6 as, similar to nurses, they have agreed to maintain vital emergency services.

Teachers’ strike

• Potential strikers: 300,000
• Unions involved: National Education Union
• Days of strikes: 4 (Feb ’23 to Mar ’23)
• Average pay (change from 2011): £41,722 for secondary teachers (-12%)
• Public support: 50%
• Pay demands: At least 9.6%
• Current offer: 5%
• Strike ballot: 90% in favour on 53% turnout

The Government has put teacher recruitment at the heart of its policy, aiming to increase starting salaries to £30,000 by 2024; the highest amongst comparable public sector jobs.

But this pay increase has come at the expense of more experienced teachers.

The average secondary school teacher has seen their pay decline by 12 per cent in real-terms over the past decade. Just two-thirds of teachers remain in the job after five years.

The scale of the strikes is yet to be seen, but its mandate hangs by a thread with just 53 per cent of teachers actually voting in the ballot.

Train strike

• Potential strikers: 12,500 
• Unions involved: ASLEF and RMT
• Days of strikes: 7 (Jul ’22 to Feb ’23)
• Average pay (change from 2011): £58,888 (+6%)
• Public support: 44%
• Pay demands: At least 9.6%
• Current offer: 8% over two years
• Strike ballot: Average 93% in favour on 85% turnout

Train drivers are staging their sixth walk-out in a year, leaving ticket halls and platforms deserted across the country once again.

Unlike most key workers, their £58,868 average salary (almost twice the national average) has actually risen above inflation over the past decade.

They have already secured an eight per cent pay rise split over two years – an offer that has so far been rejected.

Aslef claim to be as concerned about existential issues, such as driverless trains and redundancies, as they are over pay.

Polling shows the majority of people don’t support the action, but that is ultimately irrelevant given the strength of their union.

With an average of 80 per cent of members actively voting for the strike across 14 rail companies, this particular strike clearly has the energy to continue for a while.

But their actual power over people’s lives might be overstated.

During the last strikes, just five per cent of rail commuters claimed they were unable to work due to the strikes, according to the Office for National Statistics; an unexpected positive from the “work from home” revolution.

Civil servants’ strike

• Potential strikers: 100,000 
• Days of strikes: 1 
• Average pay (change from 2011): £27,710 for basic admin (0%); varied for other roles
• Public support: 37%
• Lost earnings: £75 to £119
• Pay demands: 10%
• Current offer: 3%
• Strike ballot: 123 of 214 departments voted to strike

From benefit call-handlers to government statisticians, the one-day walk-out by around 100,000 civil servants covers a lot of bases in the day-to-day running of the UK.

Giant departments, including the Department of Work and Pensions and Home Office, will join forces with the likes of Sport England, the UK Space Agency and the Gambling Commission over pay.

Due to the scope of the workforce, it’s difficult to pin down exactly how much pay has been hit over the last decade.

Lower paid workers, those involved in some of the most basic “admin” jobs, have likely benefited more from pay hikes over the past decades than those at the top.

According to the ONS, national government administrative workers' pay has been more-or-less protected over the past decade, coming in at £27,710 in 2022.

This might explain the main union’s demand that pay should increase by 10 per cent this year, to keep it in line with inflation.

Given people’s grievances with everything from passport delays to long waits on government hotlines, support for civil servants is at the lowest amongst those striking this week.

And whilst around half of government departments voted for the strikes, some key bodies including HMRC, Ministry of Defence and the courts system failed to meet the threshold for strike action.

University strikes

• Potential strikers: 70,000 
• Unions involved: University and College Union
• Days of strikes: 18 (Feb ’23 to Mar ’23)
• Public support: 38%
• Average pay (change from 2011): £47,300 for lecturers (-19%)
• Pay demands: 10%
• Current offer: 4%
• Strike ballot: 150 universities voted to strike

For the past decade, numerous walkouts have taken place across university campuses over pay but also over significant changes to their pension system.

In 2018, the strikes escalated to the point that two-thirds of all working days lost to strikes across the UK were by education staff.

The walkouts will impact pretty much every major university; all of the Russell Group in Great Britain will be involved.

A decade ago, a lecturer could expect to take home more than a train driver, but a decade of real-terms declines means they’re now taking £11,500 home less on average, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Amongst those striking throughout the week, this 19 per cent real-terms cut is likely the worst.