UK's extensive industrial strikes leave the public asking why

Tens of thousands of workers have walked out in Britain's summer of strikes

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Rail workers are set to stage another strike in September as their dispute over pay, job security and working conditions continues.

Thousands of workers across the UK have walked out this summer, with protest action staged by everyone from port workers to train drivers, barristers and rubbish collectors.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch at a rally outside King's Cross Station in London. PA

Rail workers

Members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) walked out for two days this month, on August 18 and 20, and plan to strike again at noon on Monday, September 26 for 24 hours, stretching the action into a second day.

It has been timed to coincide with the Labour Party conference in Liverpool.

The union is in talks with Network Rail. Members at nine train operating companies, as well as Network Rail, plan to walk out if the action goes ahead.

Operators which will be affected include: TransPennine Express, West Midlands Trains, Avanti West Coast, c2c, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway, LNER and Southeastern.

TSSA earlier rejected an “insulting” pay rise offer of 2 per cent.

Members of the train drivers' union Aslef will also walk out at 12 train companies on September 15.

"We regret that, once again, passengers are going to be inconvenienced, because we don't want to go on strike — withdrawing our labour, although a fundamental human right, is always a last resort for a trade union — but the train companies have forced our hand," said Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan.

Aslef members at Avanti West Coast; Chiltern Railways; CrossCountry; Greater Anglia; Great Western Railway; Hull Trains; LNER; London Overground; Northern Trains; Southeastern; TransPennine Express; and West Midlands Trains will strike.

Members of other unions, including the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) Union have also staged strikes this summer. Action by the RMT on July 27 brought about half of Britain’s rail network to a halt.

All strikes have been staged over similar issues relating to pay and working conditions.

Among other issues, they say salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living and they need a pay rise.

The average pay for a signaller is £44,000 ($51,210), Network Rail says. Maintenance workers earn on average £31,000, while the overall average for Network Rail RMT members is £36,000. Members can earn a lot less, however — as little as £21,000 for station staff.

Royal Mail/BT

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) called on members who collect, sort and deliver parcels and letters to strike on several dates, including August 31 and September 8 and 9.

They staged the action, its biggest since 2009, after rejecting a pay rise of 2 per cent, again because it does not keep pace with the cost of living.

The action involved 115,000 members on Wednesday.

Another 40,000 BT and Openreach employees who are members of CWU also walked out on the day.

“The reason for the strike is simple: workers will not accept a massive deterioration in their living standards,” said CWU general secretary Dave Ward.

The average pay for a postal delivery worker is £25,777.

Barristers

Criminal barristers in England and Wales have announced a continuous strike which officially begins on September 5.

Members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) had been walking out on alternate weeks over a dispute about legal aid fees.

But earlier this week they voted in favour of an indefinite and uninterrupted strike.

Although it does not technically begin until next week, it is essentially already in effect as industrial action resumed on Tuesday.

A 15 per cent fee rise was scheduled to come into effect from the end of September, which is worth £7,000 more per year. But there was anger about the fact it would only apply to new cases, not backlog work.

The Criminal Bar Association wants a 25 per cent increase to the Advocates Graduated Fees Scheme (AGFS), which is where barristers claim for legal aid representation.

While barristers earn on average £89,400 gross per year, they can make a lot less, particularly if they are paid through legal aid.

According to Chambers Student Guide, successful barristers doing work supported by legal aid, either criminal or civil, can earn less than £20,000 a year.

Refuse workers

Council refuse workers who are members of Unison, Unite and GMB are striking across much of Scotland over pay, like many others.

A strike in Edinburgh, which ran over the Fringe Festival and led to bins overflowing on the streets, ended on Tuesday.

But further action in other council areas is planned.

Negotiations have been taking place between unions and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. But a Unite committee rejected its latest offer, a non-recurring 5 per cent payment to staff, which would range from £989 to £2,000.

Other professions could follow

About 100,000 NHS workers in England and Wales represented by Unite will be balloted to see if they want to strike this winter. The union called a 4 per cent pay rise proposal “a massive pay cut” because of inflation. The Royal College of Nursing is asking its 465,000 members if they want to stage action. And the British Medical Association, which represents 160,000 doctors, has said industrial action is inevitable.

Teachers may also take strike action in the autumn over a proposed 5 per cent pay rise. Teaching union NASUWT, which is calling for a 12 per cent increase, said it will ballot members for industrial action in the autumn if members are not offered more.

Workers at Heathrow Airport earlier in the summer called off a strike over pay at the 11th hour, while staff at Stansted Airport in Essex are holding a vote on whether to take action.

Some experts think inflation could hit as high as 22.4 per cent next year if energy costs continue to soar.

Rail strikes return in Britain — in pictures

Updated: August 31, 2022, 4:29 PM
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