LONDON: The United Kingdom was braced for further disruptive strikes after unions representing more public and private sector staff, including highway workers, on Friday announced new planned action or ballots over walkouts.
The announcements, which will see the highway employees and hundreds of Heathrow Airport ground personnel join the growing list of staff forming picket lines, come amid a grim winter of discontent in Britain.
Strikes are multiplying across the economy and the public sector over pay, as incomes are eroded by decades-high inflation and surging consumer prices.
On Wednesday, ambulance workers joined nurses in voting to go on strike ahead of Christmas, while security staff for high-speed continental train operator Eurostar are also set to walk out this month. Numerous other employees, from national rail workers to lawyers, have also held strikes this year as the country grapples with its worst cost-of-living crisis in generations and demands for inflation-matching pay rises.
Now the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union — representing various civil servants and other government agency staff — has said national highways employees will stage a series of staggered strikes from Dec 16 to Jan 7.
It risks bringing the country to a standstill as the walkout will coincide with planned strikes by railway workers. The action follows 124 government departments and other public bodies voting last month for strike action over demands for a 10-percent pay rise and other issues. The PCS said on Tuesday the resulting “first wave” of walkouts would see driving examiners and rural payment officers at more than 250 venues across the UK participate in a month-long series of rolling strikes from mid-December.
The Unite union on Friday announced around 350 of its members working as ground handlers for private contractor Menzies at Heathrow will walk out for 72 hours starting Dec 16.
Unite said they had been offered what amounted to a “real-terms pay cut” in salary negotiations.
The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) -- representing rail workers on London’s new Elizabeth Line -- also revealed they will ballot members on whether to launch industrial action.
The union claims its members are paid “significantly less” than equivalent workers across the network.
The government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who only took power less than six weeks ago, has maintained the stance of his predecessors that ministers should not be directly involved in pay negotiations.
However, they have said in recent interviews that the country cannot afford “inflation-busting” increases, while pointing to the recommendations of pay-review bodies for public sector employees.
UK inflation accelerated in October to a 41-year peak at 11.1 percent on runaway energy and food bills.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2022
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