The threat of a ‘general strike’ over pay and working conditions across is growing more likely, as unions representing teaching and outsourced cleaning and security staff prepare to ballot members amid the rising cost of living.
The warning comes as rail companies prepare for the biggest walkout in 30 years this week, while unions representing other transport sector workers and BT staff planned to ballot members for industrial action.
The rail network is likely to grind to a standstill on three days this week – 21, 23 and 25 June. Network Rail has reportedly offered a 3% rise for one year, but Mick Lynch, general secretary of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), told The Times he wanted a pay rise of more than 7%.
Lynch said the RMT’s campaign would continue until rail bosses met members’ demands.
He said he would support a general strike – the first since 1926 – if workers from other industries wanted to take action.
He told Sky News: “I think there are going to be many unions that are balloting across the country because people can’t take it any more. We’ve got people doing full-time jobs who are having to take state benefits and use food banks. That is a national disgrace.”
Strikes over pay
Real wages, adjusted for inflation, have fallen 2.2% in a year.
Teachers’ ‘cry for help’
The NASUWT union, which represents teachers, has said it will ballot members in England, Wales and Scotland should teachers’ pay award for 2022/23 fall short of the 12% uplift the union is recommending this year. The settlement isn’t expected to be announced until November.
However, the National Education Union (NEU) has said it would ballot its members for strike action sooner, and will be putting forward a case for a pay rise to match inflation once the latest inflation figures are released by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday.
Dr Mary Bousted, NEU general secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a cry for help. We’ve seen since 2010 teachers’ pay cut artificially low as their workload has increased. We all know what an immensely important job teachers do but they haven’t been valued for that job. Now that they are finding that their cost of living crisis is so great that it’s driving them, along with excessive workload, away from the profession.”
NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “Teachers are suffering, not only from the cost of living crisis, which the whole country is grappling with, but 12 years of real terms pay cuts which has left a 20% shortfall in the value of their salaries.
“If the government and the pay review body reject a positive programme of restorative pay awards for teachers, then we will be asking our members whether they are prepared to take national industrial action in response.
“We will not allow cuts to our members’ pay and attacks on their pensions. If a pay rise is not awarded, it will be won by our members in workplaces through industrial action.”
University workers’ strike
Meanwhile, outsourced cleaners, porters, post room and security staff at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) have voted unanimously to strike over pay.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has claimed that the workers, who are mostly from ethnic minority groups, are on wages below the lowest grade of the university-wide pay scale.
Last August the union won an end to outsourcing at LSHTM to be completed by August 2022, but the IWGB claimed that the university initially refused to bring the workers’ pay in line with the university’s pay scale. LSHTM has since committed to move staff onto grade 1 of the pay scale when they come in-house, but this is still lower than all other staff at the university.
Betty Leon, a cleaner at LSHTM and vice-chair of the union’s universities branch, said: “We are demanding pay that is equal to colleagues with similar responsibilities and allows us and our families to live with dignity. I voted to strike because LSHTM has not taken us into account. They do not listen to our demands. They will not recognise our union. They refuse to meet with us and they refuse to meet with our union. We will strike unless LSHTM agrees to pay us fairly and treat us with respect.”
LSHTM said cleaning and porter staff are currently paid the London Living Wage (£11.05 per hour), which it claimed was 8.75% higher than the average pay for similar roles in London (£10.16 per hour).
It said in a statement: “In August 2021, LSHTM made the commitment to bring in-house our c.60 outsourced cleaning, portering and security staff.
“These colleagues are hugely important members of the LSHTM community. This has been particularly evident throughout the pandemic, during which these staff played a crucial role in keeping our buildings open and safe, enabling our research and other critical operations to continue.
“We look forward to our outsourced staff becoming in-house employees on 1 August 2022.”
It said all transferring staff will have their existing employment arrangements protected, and their terms and conditions will be enhanced upon moving in-house. They will recieve the same annual leave allowance, wellbeing days, carer’s leave, sick pay, and access to LSHTM pension schemes, as other staff at the university.