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UK faces fresh wave of strikes amid cost-of-living crisis

LONDON

Britain is facing a fresh wave of industrial action, including by nurses, postal workers and university lecturers, sparked by a bitter cost-of-living crisis triggered by soaring inflation and a deteriorating economy.

The annual inflation rate in the UK jumped to 11.1% in October from 10.1% in September, its highest since October 1981, leading to a fall in real wages.

Both unionized and non-unionized workers across the UK went on strike over the summer, and with the negative impact of Brexit, COVID-19 and lately the Russia-Ukraine war, the cost-of-living crisis just got worse, causing more strikes during this winter.

Leaving the EU added nearly £6 billion ($7.3 billion) to household food bills in the UK, with the poorest bearing the brunt of the higher costs, according to a new research by the London School of Economics.

Food prices have increased by 3% a year since Brexit, leading to a 6% jump over two years.

With all of this, the country has been facing a huge wave of strikes – from the workers in health, transport, education and postal sectors.

Transport

The walkout by railway workers that started in the summer still continues, with about 40,000 staff members across Network Rail and 14 other rail firms likely to go ahead with the industrial action on Dec. 13, 14, 16 and 17.

With the new announcement, rail workers will also go on strike from 6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve until 5.59 a.m. local time on Dec. 27.

About 50% of train services nationwide are expected to be affected.

London bus drivers also announced industrial action in the run-up to Christmas, with strikes starting on Dec. 10, 15 and 17.

Health sector

Nurses in the UK are preparing to go on strike on Dec. 15 and Dec. 20 over a pay dispute with the government.

The strike will take place across England, Northern Ireland and Wales. Around 100,000 nurses are expected to participate in the strike, but emergency care services will continue.

Also, more than 10,000 ambulance workers in England and Wales will strike on Dec. 21 and Dec. 28 because of pay issues, the GMB union confirmed on Tuesday.

The walkouts will also involve paramedics, control room staff and support workers.

Workers in ambulance services and some NHS trusts voted to strike because of the government-imposed 4% pay rise. Employees asked for above-inflation pay rises.

Postal Service

In October, postal workers took industrial action in a dispute over pay and the workers rejected the offer of a 2% pay rise set by Royal Mail. With the rising cost of living, the Communication Workers Union announced a nationwide strike before Christmas on Dec. 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24.

“Not all of these strikes will affect deliveries, so you should consult Royal Mail for details about specific strike dates,” said City Monitor, a website that covers housing, transport, infrastructure and urban policy innovations in cities around the world.

Bus drivers in the south and west of London will hold walkouts on Dec. 9, 10, 16 and 17.

Thousands of public workers affiliated with the Public and Commercial Services Union announced that they will join the eight-day strike starting on Dec. 23 during the Christmas period. This includes border guards working at Birmingham, Cardiff, Gatwick, Heathrow and Manchester airports, as well as the Port of Newhaven.

The walkouts will take place on Dec. 23-26, and Dec. 28-31.

Thousands of people from around 150 universities across the country joined the three-day strike movement in November. No agreement has yet been reached and a new strike decision is said to be imminent.

Teachers across Scotland went on strike on Wednesday and will continue their industrial action through Thursday, causing thousands of students to take another unscheduled day off school, and forcing schools to close.

The Scottish government previously offered a maximum 6.85% pay rise, calling the unions’ demands “not affordable.”

Liverpool shipyard workers agreed to a wage increase and left the strike, but the Felixstowe port workers did not accept the offer and continued the strike action.

Government response

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Wednesday announced that the government is working on new “strict laws” in the face of the widespread strikes of public employees.

“If union leaders continue to act unreasonably, then it is my duty to take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people,” Sunak told MPs in parliament.

Sunak has also promised to distribute extra money to hospitals to ramp up bed capacity.

A bill was submitted to parliament to guarantee minimum service on transport networks during strikes, but the bill has yet to be put on the agenda by MPs and members of the House of Lords.

The prime minister’s office said the legislation would be expanded to include other services, but did not specify what those services are, nor did it give any timelines.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the bill could “improve the service passengers receive on strike days” in the future, but “it will not help the strike we face today.”

He noted that his priority is to resolve the dispute with the railway unions so that passengers are not stranded on strike days.



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