UK union leaders signal wave of strikes in the coming months

Workers say pay increases do not go far enough to cover cost-of-living crisis

Protesters at a rally outside Kings Cross station, London, as train services continue to be disrupted after the nationwide strike by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union in a dispute over pay, jobs and conditions. PA
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Union leaders in Britain indicated that they will embark on a wave of strikes after the government offered pay increases that were below the rate of inflation.

Britain is in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis as inflation, which is at a 40-year high of 9.4 per cent, eats into workers' pay packets.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's Cabinet on Tuesday signed off on pay increases of more than 5 five per cent for millions of public sector employees, an increase that which union bosses rejected as a pay cut in real terms.

The government is trying to hit a delicate balance by offering pay increases that will avert strike action but also help to curb the spiralling inflation rate.

More than one million NHS staff, including nurses, paramedics and midwives, will receive an increase of at least £1,400 ($1,678) a year, with the lowest earners to receive up to 9.3 per cent.

Under the pay proposals, dentists and doctors will get a 4.5 per cent pay rise, police 5 per cent and teachers between 5 per cent and 8.9 per cent.

One union leader warned of co-ordinated strike action in response to pay announcements by ministers.

Meanwhile, members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in England will be balloted on industrial action.

General secretary of the Trades Union Conference, Frances O’Grady, said that NHS workers had "put their lives on the line to get us through the pandemic" and that this was "no way to repay that service".

“This below-inflation award will hit morale at a time when staff are leaving in droves and staff shortages are crippling vital services", she said.

The average basic pay for nurses will increase from about £35,600 as of March 2022 to about £37,000 and the basic pay for newly qualified nurses will increase by 5.5 per cent, from £25,655 last year to £27,055.

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton said that her members were now considering industrial action owing to the "pitiful" award, and claimed that the "majority of the public will be behind them”.

Teachers' unions are also threatening a nationwide strike, despite the announcement that the starting salary for teachers outside London will rise by 8.9 per cent to £28,000.

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: "Given this very poor pay proposal, we will look towards consulting our members in the autumn. This will be the largest ballot of teachers for a generation."

Over a hundred thousand Royal Mail workers are expected to go on strike in the coming weeks. Getty.

It comes a day after more than 115,000 postal workers at Royal Mail voted to strike over pay in what is expected to be the biggest industrial action to hit Britain this summer.

A total of 97.6 per cent of those who voted backed strikes, on a turn-out of 77 per cent, in protest at a 2 per cent pay offer, the Communication Workers Union said.

Firefighters taking strike action is a “very serious proposition”, the leader of the union in Scotland said.

The Fire Brigades Union this week rejected a 2 per cent pay increase, which the union’s Scottish secretary described as “insulting”.

It comes as firefighters across the UK tackled blazes that followed record-setting temperatures of more than 40ºC.

The soaring cost of living has already led to industrial action on Britain's railways in recent weeks.

Workers from the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will stage a further walk-out for 24 hours on Wednesday July 27 in the bitter row over pay, jobs and conditions.

The strike will affect passengers travelling for holidays or attending events such as the women’s Euro 2022 semi-final in Milton Keynes on July 27, and the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham the following day.

Network Rail said a “very limited” timetable will be available across the country on the strike day, with about 20 per cent of services running and some parts of the country with no rail services.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “There is no cost-of-living crisis for the rich in Britain and RMT, along with other unions, will not meekly accept pay freezes.

“Britain deserves a pay rise and we will pursue our national rail dispute with a resolute determination to make sure we agree a negotiated settlement.”

Updated: July 20, 2022, 12:42 PM