The Speaker
Friday, 12 April 2024 – 12:02

Strikes to continue in the new year

Strike action have shown no signs of slowing down over the winter.  This December, nurses, ambulance drivers, transport workers, driving examiners and border force workers are set to go on strike. Junior doctors and civil servants are considering strikes in the New Year.

Of course, all of these strikes occur over different sectors, but they have a common root in anger over pay and working conditions.  Nurses, who are represented by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), are demanding an above inflation pay-rise of 19%.  They argue that over the past 10 years, nurses have actually had a 6% pay cut due to inflation increasing the cost of living.  NHS staff have already received a pay boost of 4.75% where the lowest-paid staff will have received a pay-rise of at least £1,400.  However, the RCN have argued that this is not adequate because of inflation and also the working conditions that nurses are expected to endure on often understaffed wards.  Chronic shortages of nursing staff have exacerbated the already heavy workload of nurses and the NHS struggles to retain nursing staff due to this.    The government has taken a defiant tone against the unions, refusing to negotiate further with the RCN.  NHS pay rates are set by an independent review body which, at least according to the government, means they cannot interfere to increase pay. 

Ambulance drivers are also set to strike over December.    Ambulance drivers (as well as paramedics and station staff, who will also participate in the strike) are represented by three different unions:  GMB, Unison and Unite.  Unison and Unite affiliated workers will only strike on this coming Wednesday (21st December), whilst GMB members will have an additional days strike (28th December).  For ambulance staff it is not just about pay but also, like nursing staff, working conditions.  Long shifts are standard, leading to a poor work-life balance with little time for family.  Whilst life-threatening, also known as ‘category 1’ incidents will be answered, many below that will not, leading to concerns by health authorities and armed forces personnel being drafted in to transport patients to hospitals.

Workers affiliated with the RMT union (note that train drivers are represented by a separate union, ASLEF) have been undertaking strike action over the summer.  Fresh strikes, set to begin on Christmas Eve and end on Boxing Day, have been announced.  Strikes will also take place in the New Year; between the 3rd and 4th of January as well as between the 6th and 7th.  Rail bosses have criticised the move, but the ever-defiant leader of the RMT Mick Lynch has dismissed their pay offer as ‘substandard’ and has promised that action will continue until a negotiated settlement can be reached.  Like the two examples above, this is not just about pay but also proposed job cuts and changes to contracts.  The National Rail wants to cut 1,900 maintenance jobs as part of ‘modernising’ the railway and claims a satisfactory pay offer can only be reached if these cuts go through.   The RMT has demanded no compulsory redundancies as well as guaranteeing the protection of jobs such as train guards, which it argues is essential for the safety of passengers.

Royal Mail workers, represented by the CWU, are set to go on strike from the 23rd of December to Christmas Eve during one of the busiest periods of the year for the Royal Mail.  Conflict between the Royal Mail and its employees have been on-going throughout the year with strikes taking place over pay, conditions and compulsory redundancies.  Acrimonious language has flung between the two sides , with the Royal Mail accusing the CWU of ‘misleading new proposals’, whilst the CWU claims that the company rejected further negotiations ‘almost immediately’.  The Royal Mail was privatised in 2013 and has been struggling to compete with rival parcel delivery companies whilst maintaining its postal obligations.  Bosses sent warnings to employees that the company was ‘on its knees’, posting losses of up to £1 million pounds a day.  The CWU has promised that strike action will continue into 2023.

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