40,000 UK Network Rail employees and workers at 13 train operators have staged a pay strike in Britain’s biggest railway strike in 30 years.
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty pictures
LONDON – A days-long train stop that causes serious travel disruptions across the UK could only be the beginning of a summer of strikes, British workers’ unions have warned, as many professions consider labor struggle over pay.
Around 40,000 Network Rail employees and workers at 13 train operators went on strike on Tuesday in the first of a series of planned strikes. This came after talks between operators and the UK’s RMT union failed to reach an agreement on wages, working conditions and possible redundancies.
Only 20% of rail services in England, Scotland and Wales ran on Tuesday, with further cancellations on Thursday and Saturday, resulting in major disruptions for millions of workers and holidaymakers ahead of the high season for summer travel.
London’s underground pipes also went with limited capacity on Tuesday when employees went on strike.
Trade unions say the railway strikes – the worst in a generation – are backed by workers in other sectors, and may motivate them to step up action in an increasingly stalemate between government and public sector workers.
It could lead to similar departures from teachers, health professionals and local government staff, TUC, Britain’s most important organized labor movement, told CNBC on Tuesday.
“Many public employees are waiting to hear what their wage offer will be. Trade unions in education, the civil service and other parts of the public sector have already been aware that if the offers are significantly below inflation, they will vote their members into a labor struggle,” said TUC’s Deputy Secretary General. Paul Nowak.
It comes as the UK suffers from its worst cost-of-living crisis in decades, with wages not keeping pace with rising food and energy prices.
Inflation in the UK jumped to a 40-year high of 9% in May – a figure the Bank of England has predicted could reach 11% in October. Nevertheless, the government has sought to keep public sector wage increases well below that.
‘Existential crisis’ for public employees
The British Teachers’ Association has said the profession is on the brink of an “existential crisis” as workers struggle to make ends meet.
NASUWT has now said that they will vote members for national action in November if the government does not meet the requirements to increase wages by 12% this year.
“Teachers are suffering, not only from the cost of living crisis, which the whole country is struggling with, but 12 years of real pay cuts that have resulted in a 20% deficit in the value of their pay,” said Secretary General Patrick Roach. in a statement Sunday.
Nurses are similarly seeking a 15% pay rise, and a spokeswoman for the RCN Nurses’ Association told CNBC on Tuesday that pay was a “crucial factor in recruiting and retaining the nursing workforce.”
The TUC said that any decision to strike would not be taken lightly, but urged the government to do more to support those facing wage cuts and real wage cuts.
“It is our hope that a labor struggle will not be necessary,” said Nowak. “But we need this Conservative government to acknowledge the damage they have done by keeping public sector wages down for so long. It has pushed workers to the brink. We have teachers and nurses who depend on food banks – it can not continue.”
The UK railway strike has resulted in major disruptions for millions of workers and holidaymakers ahead of the peak summer travel season.
Bryn Colton | Getty Images News | Getty pictures
The talks between Network Rail and RMT fell apart on Monday after the workers’ union rejected proposals, including a 3% wage increase, in exchange for changes in workplace practice.
RMT leader Mick Lynch accused the government of “slinging” railway operators ‘wage offers, instead asking for a wage increase of 7% to 8% and warning that the labor struggle would last “as long as necessary” until workers’ demands are met.
Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the war had been “produced” by unions and said workers were on strike under “false pretenses”. However, he again on Tuesday rejected calls on the government to enter into negotiations, saying that it was “the employers’ task to meet the unions”.
Implications for other industries
The strikes come as the British economy struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and Brexit-related supply problems. New figures released last week showed that the country’s economy contracted unexpectedly by 0.3% in April, which contributed to concerns about an impending recession.
Business leaders have said that the withdrawals could have major consequences for other sectors, especially those already hard hit by Covid-19 restrictions.
This week’s rail strike alone could cost Britain’s leisure, theater and tourism industry more than £ 1 billion ($ 1.22 billion) as more people stay at home, according to UKHospitality.
Susannah Streeter, senior investment and market analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said the rail strikes have turned the ongoing operational headache into a “full blown migraine” for the hospitality industry.
“Restaurants, bars and hotels are already struggling under the strain of sky-high energy prices, supply chain disruptions and the ongoing labor crisis, and now the mass layoffs are set to cause new economic pain,” she said in a note on Tuesday.
“When the transport network picks up, orders are expected to drop as the lucrative lunch crowd stays at home, and night owls cancel reservations while fearing they will not be able to get home at the end of the night,” she added. .