Britons will face a wave of strikes every day until Christmas in another ‘winter of discontent’ – as MPs urge rail barons to suspect strikes could cost the economy £1.7bn.
Railway workers, including Eurostar staff, nurses, paramedics, teachers, security guards who handle cash, cleaners, porters, driving examiners, airport staff, rural pay officers and civil servants are planning actions that will impact each day of Advent.
The lives of millions will be disrupted by coordinated strikes, which will paralyze essential public services in the run-up to Christmas.
Of particular note is an NHS Christmas strike on December 20, which some fear could bring healthcare to a halt.
Three unions – GMB, Unite and Unison – are discussing a coordinated strike date, says The Guardian, and talks are said to have taken place between union leaders and ministers on how to ‘avoid the loss of life’. The Royal College of Nursing has already confirmed that members will strike on December 20 and 15
Mick Lynch, RMT General Secretary, (centre) today in Westminster with Deputy General Secretary Eddie Dempsey (left)
It emerged today that ground handlers employed by a private contractor at Heathrow Airport will strike consecutively for overpayment.
Approximately 350 members of Unite who work for Menzies will walk out for 72 hours on Friday 16th December from 4am. The action will lead to some flight disruption, the union said.
Rishi Sunak creates ‘winter of discontent’ unit to deal with strikes
By James Tapsfield, Political Editor for MailOnline
Rishi Sunak has set up a ‘winter of discontent’ unit at the heart of the government to oversee the response to a wave of public sector strikes.
The Prime Minister’s closest ally, Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office minister, has been put in charge of the task force managing the union action.
The government is struggling to contain a bewildering array of disputes, with more than 10,000 ambulance workers last to support strikes last night.
Unions are threatening to coordinate strikes to ensure the ‘maximum impact’ in the run-up to Christmas, while demanding wage increases to match rising inflation and better conditions.
Downing Street has urged them to call off their ‘unnecessary’ action and return to the negotiating table.
The creation of the task force, revealed by the Financial Times, comes amid growing concerns about the consequences for the government if strikes paralyze the country.
The Labor government under James Callaghan was effectively destroyed by a similar wave of action in the ‘winter of discontent’ of the late 1970s. This also followed a major international energy price shock.
Unite said ground handlers have been given a lump sum raise – what it called a real pay cut.
Government estimates in the Times suggest the rail industry alone will lose up to £260 million as a result of the strikes.
Meanwhile, the hospitality industry has warned that union action will cost it £1.5bn in lost sales as people avoid going to pubs, bars and restaurants.
Kate Nicholls, Head of Hospitality UK, tweeted today: ‘Hospitality businesses don’t have time to play with and losing the busiest Christmas trading week to rail strikes could be final for many.’
Steve Brine, chairman of the House of Commons health committee, suggested union barons were more determined than ever to shut Britain down, he said.
Brine told Sky News: ‘We keep hearing that this is a repeat of the winter of discontent of the 1970s. In some ways that is not the case, but in some ways it is possibly more worrying, as the different laws on labor disputes since the 1970s have of course made it more difficult to achieve a strike mechanism.
“The fact that you now have so many coordinated strikes suggests that there is deep dissatisfaction with wages and some conditions within parts of the health service.” Meanwhile, hospitals could struggle to keep even basic services running through simultaneous walkouts by nurses, paramedics and hospital workers.
Three unions – GMB, Unite and Unison – are discussing a coordinated strike date, says The Guardian, and talks are said to have taken place between union leaders and ministers on how to ‘avoid the loss of life’. The Royal College of Nursing has already confirmed that members will strike on December 20 and 15.
The fire service union will vote its members to strike action over a pay dispute on December 5, while Aberdeen secondary schools in some years will close next Thursday for students in years S1 to S4 due to strikes.
About 188 employees of the Greene King brewery will go on strike next month over overtime pay. Currently, no date has been set for a Tube strike this month, but one could still happen.
Steve Brine, chairman of the Commons health committee (pictured), said this winter’s planned action may have been ‘more concerning’ as new anti-strike laws have made it more difficult to legally call strikes
It came as Andy Prendergast of The GMB Sky News warned: ‘We will talk to other unions… we will try to make sure this has the maximum impact. We will make sure emergencies are covered, but ultimately the government has to listen.”
It has sparked new calls for new anti-strike laws to destroy union power, including the introduction of minimum service legislation – forcing workers to ensure a certain level of service is maintained on strike days.
Tory MP and former Chief Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke said: ‘If the unions refuse to come to their senses, it is imperative that the government go ahead with minimum service legislation.’
James Callaghan’s Labor government was effectively devastated by a similar wave of industrial action during the ‘winter of discontent’ of 1978-1979.
Meanwhile, rail workers on London’s new Elizabeth Line must be balloted for strikes in a dispute over pay.
Members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) will vote in the coming weeks on whether to launch a campaign of union action.
The union said its members are paid “significantly less” than comparable workers across the network.
Piles of undelivered mail have been pictured piling up in depots across the country as Royal Mail strikes threaten to wreak havoc over Christmas
Photos taken in recent days appear to show mailbags piling up in North West England, South West London and Essex
TSSA represents management grades used by Rail for London Infrastructure (RfLI), including traffic managers, service infrastructure managers and incident response managers, who are critical to running services across London’s new flagship west-east line.
The union said a strike would halt services.
The union said RfLI has offered a 4 per cent pay rise, but added that workers at MTR – the outsourced part of the Elizabeth Line – have received an 8.2 per cent raise this year, Docklands Light Railway staff ( DLR) 9.25 percent and London Overground staff got 6.5 percent.
Talks at the mediation service Acas in recent weeks have not led to a breakthrough.
TSSA organizer Mel Taylor said: ‘This dispute is fundamentally about unfairness and disparity in pay rates within the Transport for London network. RfLI need to change their Scrooge working habits and make 2022 a Merry Christmas.
‘The Elizabeth Line is a brilliant addition to London’s transport services. Our members have years of experience working on the country’s most modern railways, but are paid significantly less than staff performing similar positions on the network – including colleagues on the same line.
“These are first class services provided by first class workers on second class wages. Low wages lead to high turnover, a lack of fully trained staff and a reliance on overtime to perform core services.’