Is This The Summer Of Discontent? All The Industries Thinking About Strike Action

·10 min read
Protesting industries (Photo: PA)
Protesting industries (Photo: PA)

Protesting industries (Photo: PA)

The rail strikes briefly brought the country to a halt last week as employees rowed with their employers over their contracts – and it seems this has set other industries in motion all over the country.

As the cost of living crisis squeezes and inflation reaches a 40-year-high at 9.1%, workers across the UK are pushing back against stagnant wages and post-Covid recovery measures.

Here’s what you need to know:

Royal Mail managers

What’s happening? Managers working for Royal Mail voted to strike on Wednesday. Approximately 2,4000 at more than 1,000 delivery offices across the country could be involved in the walkout.

They also voted in favour of industrial action just short of a strike, dubbed “work to rule”, where employees only work to the letter of their contract, refusing to take on extra duties.

Why are they striking? Members of the Unite union supported the industrial action by 86%, and 89% in Northern Ireland, due to their employers’ “ill-thought-out redeployment programme”.

According to the union, 542 frontline delivery managers’ jobs are on the line and a redeployment plan would delve out much worse terms and conditions.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “It is no surprise at all that these workers have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action.

“Make no mistake, Royal Mail is awash with cash – there is no need whatsoever to sack workers, drive down pay or pursue this ill-thought-out redeployment programme.

“These plans are all about boardroom greed and profiteering and nothing whatsoever to do with securing this vital public service.”

She said the strikers have Unite’s 100% support to take Royal Mail off the “ruinous path”.

What does the government say? Downing Street has not yet commented on this particular set of strikes.

A spokesperson from Royal Mail claimed it was “disappointed by the announcement” and alleged that Unite “has misled members about additional job losses”. Royal Mail claims that is not true.

They added: “There are no grounds for industrial action. The extended consultation on these changes concluded earlier this year, and the restructuring is complete. We are committed to protecting pay for all managers who stay with Royal Mail and the vast majority will see an increase in their earnings.”

Managers are allowed to request voluntary redundancy with “a package of up to two years’ salary”, according to the employers.

“The ballot covers around a third of our 6,000 managers and we have contingency plans in place to keep letters and parcels moving in the event of a strike.”

What might happen next? The exact dates for the strike action have not been confirmed.

Criminal barristers

(Photo: SOPA Images via Getty Images)
(Photo: SOPA Images via Getty Images)

(Photo: SOPA Images via Getty Images)

What’s happening? On Monday, criminal barristers walked out of courts in England and Wales in protest over their pay.

Around eight in 10 cases in London’s Old Bailey were allegedly affected, while protests outside Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Bristol Crown Courts also went ahead. More action is planned over the next month.

The strikes will increase by one day each week for the next month until a five-day strike is held from Monday 18 July, to Friday 22 July.

Why are they striking? The government sets out pay rates for barristers who do legal aid work, where you defend someone who cannot afford a lawyer themselves.

However, barristers claim this set wage is not enough to live off.

Barristers have already been offered a 15% rise in their fees for accepting legal aid work, but they’ve rejected this, pointing out this increase wouldn’t even kick in until the end of this year.

By then, too many junior barristers would already have left the bar, according to campaigners. They also believe this increase would be wiped out by inflation by the time it comes into effect.

They want a 25% increase at the very least.

Chair of the Criminal Bar Association, Jo Sidhu QC, said the organisation is already losing employees over the low pay.

An independent review for 2019-2020 concluded that the median salary for criminal barristers is between £55,900 and £62,900 once expenses are included.

New barristers sometimes earn just £9,000 once transport costs are included, while others say the amount of time they spend on cases can reduce their hourly rate to below zero.

The protesting lawyers claim the issue was “caused by government, not by barristers”.

What does the government say? Downing Street has been encouraging protesters to agree to the proposed pay rise, which would supposedly grant the typical barrister an extra £7,000 more per year.

Justice secretary Dominic Raab has said the strikes are “regrettable” and claimed only 43.5% of the Union members voted for the “most disruptive option”.

However, out of the CBA members who did vote, more than 81% supported industrial action, and 53.4% are refusing to pick up new cases.

What might happen next? The most senior judge in England and Wales, The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, said anyone joining the picket lines could be disciplined for misconduct if they do not appear in court.

But, barrister and author Chris Daw told BBC News that if nothing changes, strike action may go on until August.

Doctors

What’s happening? Doctors are also considering a strike, as they call for a 30% pay rise over the next five years.

Delegates at a conference for the British Medical Association in Brighton have already voted to push ministers on increasing their salary, claiming it would make up for real-term cuts to salaries since 2008.

Why are they considering a strike? Those campaigning claim they have taken a significant pay cut in recent years.

Dr Emma Runswick said: “Pay restoration is the right, just and moral thing to do, but it is a significant demand and it won’t be easy to win.

“Every part of the BMA needs to plan for how to achieve this. But I’m not foolish, I know that it’s likely that industrial action will be required to move the governments on this issue.”

“It is outrageous that doctors today are unable to afford mortgages and are delaying starting families due to falling pay,” she continued. “It is outrageous that our pay has been cut and it is sensible that we demand it back.”

Fellow campaigner Dr Jacqueline Davies also said this was the primary answer to the Covid backlog, “unmanageable workloads” and “record demand with no additional capacity”.

She said: “There’s no rescue plan beyond ‘work harder’. We know that staff shortages lead to critical incidents and who gets the blame? We do, the burden falls on us.”

What does the government say? Health secretary Sajid Javid is expected to accept the recommendations of the public sector review body on NHS pay in the coming weeks.

It’s thought that NHS workers may receive a 3 or 4% pay increase through the recommendations of the review – a far cry from the amount they’ve requested.

Technology minister Chris Philp claimed on Tuesday that doctors do not deserve an “enormous” 30% increase, as that would “drive inflation even higher”.

What might happen next? GPs are going to vote on holding a strike over a new contract which would mean they have to work 9-5 on Saturdays. But, it remains to be seen if other sectors will follow suit.

British Airways

What’s happening? Around 700 employees at Heathrow Airport who work for British Airways have already voted to strike this summer, after the company introduced a 10% pay cut.

While this was mostly check-in staff, the proposed strikes could soon stretch out across the industry as more unions consult with their workers over whether to take industrial action over pay.

GMB and Unite unions are asking engineers and call centre staff at airports in Gatwick, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle if they want to join in.

This consultation aims to gauge turnout, and will ask what kind of action workers want to take – it’s the stage before a formal ballot over striking.

Why are staff striking? BA workers want to be reinstated the full 10% unions claim was “stolen” from them last year, “will full back pay and the 10% bonus which other colleagues have been paid”.

Unions also noted that staff have suffered “untold abuse as they deal with travel chaos caused by staff shortages and IT failures” while having pay slashed due to BA’s “callous fire and rehire policy”.

What do the government say? Downing Street has blamed airline companies for overselling flights, alleging the government had already sent a £8billion support package during the pandemic.

BA, meanwhile, said it was “fully committed to work together to find a solution” with the campaigners, and has already offered staff a one-off payment – equal to 10% of their salary.

The company said the majority of colleagues accepted this offer, including ground operations, engineering, cabin crew workers, but, GMB members at Heathrow want the full cut reversed.

What might happen next? The dates for the strike action are yet to be confirmed.

This could mean summer holidays are jeopardised as close to 1.8 million BA customers are going to be flying from Heathrow in July.

The earliest the workers may strike in July 7, as they have to give 14 days notice.

However, the Unions noted that it was “not too late to save the summer holidays” if the pay cuts are reversed.

BA has already cut 10% of its flights between March and October, amid a surge in travel demand after Covid. Having laid off staff during the lockdowns, airlines are not prepared and the whole industry seems to be floundering in recent months.

More rail strikes

(Photo: Rebecca Speare-Cole via PA Wire/PA Images)
(Photo: Rebecca Speare-Cole via PA Wire/PA Images)

(Photo: Rebecca Speare-Cole via PA Wire/PA Images)

What’s happening? Rail workers went on strike for three days last week over working conditions, wage stagnation and pensions, led by the union RMT.

While there’s no doubt that the industrial action made the whole country sit up and pay attention, RMT boss Mick Lynch warned that unless negotiations with Network Rail and train companies don’t progress, there will be more strikes.

What might happen next? He said that “there’s a long way to go yet” on Saturday, the final proposed strike day.

He told Sky News that RMT is in constant discussion with employers, but “we haven’t made the advances we’d like to make.”

Replying to a claim from Network Rail about the progress which had been made, he said: “We’ve got to be very cautious about what they call progress.

“They may be progressing their agenda, but it doesn’t mean that our members are going to accept those changes just because the company wants them, so we’ve got to work that problem through with them.”

“It’s likely [that] unless we get a lot of movement provided by the government that the companies can change their stance that there will be more action.

“We’ve not named dates,” but he noted: “We won’t hesitate to use more industrial action if we can’t reach an agreement or if  the companies carry through their threats to make people redundant.”

No strikes would take place until late July at the earliest, because unions have to provide two weeks’ notice before striking.

The RMT wants a pay rise in line with inflation and a promise of no compulsory redundancies. The workers have only been offered a 2% increase, with an extra 1% tied to job cuts.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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