A number of trade unions have warned that industrial action is a necessary last resort in the face of real-terms pay cuts for workers across the economy
As inflation continues to rise, fuelling a cost of living crisis which shows no signs of abating, many workers across the economy are opting for industrial action in a bid to win real-terms pay increases.
Trade unions, charities and a number of think tanks have all called for workers to receive pay rises which at least keep pace with inflation, although figures from the Bank of England and in government have warned against this as they say this could fuel further inflation.
In the face of this, many trade unions have already announced some form of industrial action, or have announced ballots of workers to see if they support taking strike action.
These are all the main national strike, strike ballots and potential disputes to have been announced.
1. Rail workers
Having launched strike action backed in June, the RMT has since announced a further three days of strike action in a long-running dispute over terms and conditions, including pay. The RMT mostly represents rail workers rather than train drivers, many of whom earn less than £30,000 per year and are facing significant job losses, plus changes to the way the railways run which the union says will make the service less safe. Network Rail has offered a 4% pay rise, and suggested that workers could get an additional 4% next year if they sign up to a raft of proposed changes. Workers from more than a dozen train operating companies and Network Rail will take part in a day of strike action on 27 July, followed by a further two days on 18 and 20 August. The entire national rail network will be impacted, with services severely limited on the days of strike action and in many areas on the days either side of the planned strikes. In addition to RMT workers, other staff who work on the rail network and are members of the TSSA union will go on strike on the Avanti West Coast line on 27 July, in a dispute over pay, job security and conditions.
2. Train drivers
Train drivers will also go on strike for one day, on 30 July, ASLEF members at eight companies – Arriva Rail London; Chiltern Railways; Greater Anglia; Great Western; Hull Trains; LNER; Southeastern; and West Midlands Trains – will walk out on strike, over a pay dispute. Mick Whelan, general secretary of ASLEF, said the many workers have not had a pay rise since 2019. He said: “With inflation running at north of 10% that means those drivers have had a real terms pay cut over the last three years. We want an increase in line with the cost of living – we want to be able to buy, in 2022, what we could buy in 2021.”
3. BT Openreach and call centres
Around 40,000 workers across the BT Group are set to walk out on strike for the first time in more than 30 years, after bosses pushed through a flat pay increase which does not match inflation. Strike action will take place on 29 July and 1 August, with some limited disruption to services expected during those days. OpenReach engineers and BT call centre in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have voted for strike action over what they say in an “insulting pay offer” in the context of BT’s profits and shareholder payouts. Negotiations between CWU and BT over pay failed to result in a deal, with the firm insisting it cannot offer more than the flat increase. Union figures point to BT’s annual profit of £1.3bn last year and the £700m paid out to investors as evidence that ‘affordability is not the issue’. BT has offered and already implemented a flat pay increase of £1,500 per year for all UK staff, which the company says equates to a rise of around 3% for workers on top-end salaries, and around 8% for those on lower wages.
Hundreds of criminal barristers have been campaigning for an increase in their rates of pay, involving extensive strike action. While currently on hold for a week, barristers began refusing to attend court on 27 June, initially for one day of the week, building up to a full five-day walkout from 18 to 22 July. Another five-day walkout will begin on 1 August, and will be repeated every other week until the government commits to increasing rates, according to the Criminal Bar Association (CBA). Despite misconceptions that all barristers earn high-salaries, criminal defence barristers - particularly early in their career - can earn the equivalent of minimum wage or less, as the legal aid rates have not been increased in several years. Industrial action began in April, when many barristers opted a ‘no returns’ policy, meaning they refused to pick up cases returned by other barristers who are unable to attend. With significant backlogs in the criminal courts system already, the ‘no return’ policy was taken as a first step, with 94% of CBA members voting to accept the ‘no return policy’. In response to the action the government has committed to increasing rates by 15%, although this was the minimum uplift recommended by an independent review carried out prior to the recent spike in inflation. Barristers have criticised this increase, which the government has said will only apply to cases beginning from September onwards and will not be applied to existing cases, meaning the rise will not be felt for some time.