Barristers in England and Wales have voted to walk out indefinitely from next month, as their dispute with the government over pay, working conditions and legal aid funding escalates.
Out of 2,273 votes cast by members of the Criminal Bar Association, an overwhelming 1,808 members (79.5%) voted to escalate the industrial action which began earlier this year.
Barristers have been striking on alternate weeks since June, but from 5 September they will walk out for an uninterrupted, indefinite period.
During the strikes, participating barristers will not accept new cases or take on work for colleagues whose cases have overrun, known as “returns”.
The CBA’s ballot announcement said: “We take great pride in the fact that our members have so consistently demonstrated such a deep commitment to the democratic process. It reflects an unshakeable, underlying belief in the power of collective action and a demand to be heard.”
Strikes over pay
Justice minister Sarah Dines said the decision was “wholly unjustified” and would see more victims face further delays in having their cases heard.
“The escalation of strike action is wholly unjustified considering we are increasing criminal barristers’ fees by 15%, which will see the typical barrister earn around £7,000 more a year,” she said.
The CBA is seeking a 25% increase in pay for legal aid work.
Figures from HM Courts and Tribunal Service at the end of April show there were 58,271 cases waiting to go to trial. This figure is likely to have grown since then.
University union threatens strikes
Meanwhile, the University and College Union (UCU) has suggested that universities should prioritise investment in their staff to avoid “unprecedented” industrial action, ahead of a ballot over pay, working conditions and cuts to pensions due to open in September.
In 2020-21, the most recent financial year, universities finished with £3.4bn more cash in the bank than they started it with, according to the UCU. However, spending on staff increased by only £200 million.
The union has accused the sector of being “wasteful”with money as workers’ real-terms wages fall.
It was critical of universities embarking on what it described as “vanity projects” while workers’ pay and conditions suffered. This included the University of Birmingham opening up a new Dubai campus while staff at it’s other Dubai campus were told to hide their sexuality; and the revelation that only 100 students have graduated from the New York campus of Glasgow Caledonian Universty since it opened eight years ago.
UK universities made a pay offer of just 3% this year – well behind inflation, which in July was 10.1% when measured by the consumer prices index.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Falling pay, devastating cuts to pension and insecure contracts are not a fact of nature but the consequences of spending decisions made by vice chancellors. University staff are clear that they have had enough and unless urgent action is taken to raise pay, restore pensions and address their wider concerns, they will be voting to take strike action this autumn.“
Meanwhile workers at the UK’s largest container port have gone on strike for the first time in 30 years. Around 1,900 members of the Unite union at Felixstowe are walking out for eight days in a dispute over pay. Unite said its members rejected a 7% pay offer from Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company.