The seven-week Conservative leadership contest has sputtered to a miserable close: Liz Truss is prime minister.
Having spent her leadership bid cementing her position as Thatcher reincarnate, Truss looks set to adopt Thatcher’s template for dealing with unions.
“As Prime Minister,” she tweeted last month, “I will not let our country be held to ransom by militant trade unionists.” Complaining that British workers need “more graft”, Truss has pledged to introduce new laws that will make it harder to call strikes, particularly in essential public services such as transport.
In the meantime, Truss is facing a winter of industrial action extending right to her doorstep. For while strikes by outsourced staff at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy have been suspended after the Public and Commercial Services Union won “significant” concessions from the government, a national strike ballot for civil servants will open on 26 September.
In fact, Truss will be inheriting so many industrial disputes that it would be impossible to summarise them all in a single article (for a weekly round-up of strike action, check out Emiliano Mellino’s newsletter, The Week in Work). Instead, we’ve highlighted the ones likely to cause her the biggest headaches.
When the RMT first went out on strike in June, it was Britain’s biggest nationwide rail strike for 30 years. Much to Truss’s chagrin, the rail workers aren’t going anywhere: Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) has said striking train drivers are “here for the long haul”.
On 15 September, ASLEF, the RMT, and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) will all be on strike. Both the RMT and the TSSA will be striking on the 17th. Then on 26 and 27 September, the TSSA will hold strikes at nine rail operating companies.
Both the RMT and the TSSA have accused transport secretary Grant Shapps of threatening to effectively fire and rehire railway workers. Shapps told Sky News that if the dispute cannot be settled “we will have to move to what’s called a Section 188, it’s a process of actually requiring these changes to go into place”.
Section 188 refers to an employer’s legal duty to consult trade union representatives if they are proposing to make 20 or more employees redundant. Manuel Cortes, TSSA general secretary, said in a statement: “[Shapp’s] intended misuse of Section 188 – a legal duty to consult and intended to reach agreement – will only make things worse.”
Starting today and ending Wednesday, around 900 bus workers at Arriva will strike over pay and forced overtime, with further strikes scheduled if the dispute is not resolved. Workers with Unite are taking action at multiple Arriva depots. The strikers are hopeful: last month, Unite won bus drivers at Arriva North West an 11.1% pay rise.
It isn’t just Arriva that Unite is targeting. Its bus workers at the French-owned transport company RATP recently held their second industrial action in the ongoing dispute over pay, striking for two days over Notting Hill Carnival.
Meanwhile, both GMB and Unite are balloting Stagecoach bus workers. In Sunderland, almost 200 Stagecoach drivers will be balloted for strike action in a pay dispute; in Hull, Unite is balloting 250 workers.
The Royal College of Nursing is opening a ballot for industrial action on 15 September. Described by the union as “defining” for the sector, if successful, this would be the first-ever industrial action taken by nurses in England and Wales.
Meanwhile the British Medical Association, which represents doctors and medical students, are preparing to ballot members.
Unison, which represents almost half a million health care workers, has launched its pay campaign Pledge Yes for the NHS. Their formal industrial action ballot will open in late October.
The GMB’s ballot of tens of thousands of NHS workers opened last week. Health workers are being balloted over a rejection of the current pay offer, which is a flat rate pay increase, amounting to between 1 and 7% (inflation is set to exceed 18% next year).
Tomorrow, the University and College Union (UCU) strike ballots open at UK universities. A total of 150 universities will be balloted, with the ballot running until 21 October. Two separate ballots are running: one over pay, the other over pension cuts.
For the first time in these disputes, the ballot is aggregated. This means that if the UCU achieves an overall turnout of 50% or above and a majority yes vote in a ballot, all the universities in the ballot will be striking.
Staff at more than 20 universities across the UK, represented by Unison, have voted to strike in a dispute over pay. Cleaners, administrators, library, catering and security workers are set to walk out after rejecting a 3% pay award from the University and Colleges Employers Association in May.
Having taken action on 26 and 31 August, around 115,000 posties are set to strike again this Thursday and Friday in a dispute over pay and working practices.
Last month, the Telegraph reported that Royal Mail executives have been attempting to trigger the break clause in the company’s legally binding contract with the Communication Workers Union (CWU).
Back in 2013, Royal Mail signed an agreement with the CWU restricting the company from undertaking a variety of worker-hostile practices, such as outsourcing, compulsory redundancies and temporary labour.
Royal Mail has also reportedly been offering £1,000 bonuses to managers if they personally maintain 100% attendance until 31 October, a date that likely reflects the company’s projection for when the strikes will be most intense.
Having turned out extremely impressive ballots, including the biggest mandate for strike action since the draconian 2016 Trade Union Act, it’s safe to say we can expect further action from the CWU.
Dock workers at the port of Liverpool are set to strike from 19 September to 3 October. Over 560 port operatives and engineers will take action over what their union Unite has called a “pay cut dressed up as rise”.
Last month, an eight-day strike over pay at Britain’s largest container port, Felixstowe, ended without an agreement. During the strike, the average number of days shipping containers spent at the Suffolk port nearly doubled. Unite has announced its intent to set further strike dates if the port refuses to negotiate further over the pay offer.
Meanwhile, following a string of wildcat strikes at Amazon distribution centres across the UK, workers at a Coventry Amazon warehouse voted last week in a consultative ballot, saying that they are ready to strike over pay (the workers have been offered a 35p rise. Amazon is currently worth over £1tn. Their union GMB said 300 workers voted, 97% of whom said they were ready to walk out.
In the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, refuse collectors are on strike. Workers for the council’s waste contractor Serco are taking action over the current pay offer. The refuse loaders are currently paid £9.91 per hour, and have been offered a 6% pay rise.
The strikes are likely to spread. Last week, refuse workers in the London Borough of Newham began their strike over pay. 99% of union members voted for action. Unite say the workers are currently paid far less than those in neighbouring Hackney and Greenwich (a worker in Newham earns £22,850; one in Greenwich doing the same work would get £24,763).
Criminal barristers in England and Wales have voted for indefinite strike action beginning from today, in an escalation of their dispute with the government over legal aid fees. In June, criminal barristers began a series of walkouts.
The barristers’ decision to stop work is significant, given the 59,000-strong backlog of cases.
While ministers have announced an uplift in fees, this only applies to new cases and not to the backlog.