The UK could face a ‘summer of discontent’ as unions representing travel and communications workers hint at further industrial action to come.
The Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, which represents managers and other infrastructure roles in the rail industry, has announced it will ballot 6,000 staff at Network Rail for strike action and for action short of strike action over pay and job security.
The ballot will open next week and will demand a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies in 2022, no unagreed changes to terms and conditions, and a pay increase that reflects the cost of living.
It will close on 11 July, with the possibility of strike action later that month. This comes on top of planned strike action affecting 13 rail companies next week, on 21, 23 and 25 June.
TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes said: “We could be seeing a summer of discontent across our railways if Network Rail doesn’t see sense and come to the table to face the concerns of their staff.
“Network Rail staff are asking for basic fair treatment: not to be sacked from their jobs; a fair pay rise in the face of a cost-of-living crisis; and no race to the bottom on terms and conditions.
“Our members have had enough. Make no mistake, we are preparing for all options, including coordinated strike action.”
The union has already opened strike ballots with four other train operating companies: Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway and West Midlands Trains.
On top of rail disruption, homes and businesses could see disruption to phone and broadband services with news that the Communication Workers Union will ballot BT employees on potential strike action this summer.
BT’s first national strike in 35 years
CWU sent out ballot slips today to its members at BT and is expected to announce the result at the end of June. If a strike goes ahead, it would be the first national strike in 35 years at BT.
The dispute is related to “an incredibly low flat rate pay rise” which means members cannot cope with the “soaring cost of living”. CWU described BT’s pay proposals as “insulting treatment” after many BT employees went “above and beyond” to keep services going during the pandemic.
CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “While BT Group created even better profits than was expected, many workers who made that profit rely on food banks and don’t know how they will pay their bills.
“The people at the top of BT should be thinking about that as they count their money. These key worker heroes are more than owed a proper pay increase – and if they aren’t going to be given it, they’re not afraid to fight for what they deserve.”
BT Group refuted the union’s claims. A spokesperson said: “Having awarded our frontline colleagues the largest pay rise in over 20 years, we are disappointed that the CWU is considering industrial action, because if it goes ahead, nobody wins.
“By making a flat rate pay increase of £1,500 we ensured that our lowest paid colleagues received as much as an 8% increase while those on higher salaries would still receive more than 3%.
“BT Group’s current pay rates compare well against competitors and in most cases remain at or above the market rate.”
Cost of living protests
Other sectors could also face walkouts this summer if pay demands are not met. Members of Britain’s largest union Unison will march this weekend to demand action on the cost of living and general secretary Christina McAnea has said she would “strongly recommend” walkouts if pay increases are not equal to the retail price index measure (RPI) of inflation, which is currently 11%.
Unison represents almost 500,000 health workers, meaning strike action could throw NHS employers into disruption in the coming months. The union also represents thousands of workers in schools and public sector employers.
The latest labour market figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that employees’ real-terms pay fell by 2.2% in the past 12 months.