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  • Samin Sabah Islam

Industrial Action & What It Means

Industrial Action unfolding in the UK

If you’re currently residing in the UK, you’re probably no stranger to cancelled train journeys and delays in your ASOS deliveries. The underlying issue, however, is much more severe than that meets the eye. 2022 has been a turbulent time for the world economy. Recovery from the pandemic, coupled with the war on Ukraine, have led to skyrocketing inflation rates across many parts of the world, including the UK. For example, in November 2022, annual food inflation in the UK hit 16.5%, the highest rate for 45 years, according to the ONS.

The rising prices and cost of living would not have sent the economy into such a frenzy if workers’ wages rose in line with inflation rates. However, they did not. Unable to cope with heating bills and keeping food on the table, workers across many industries were forced into industrial action- strikes. Throughout December and now going into January, rail workers, ambulance workers, nurses, bus drivers, driving examiners, Royal Mail workers, teachers and university staff have gone on strike, demanding better working conditions, increased pay and job security.

So far, some sectors have been able to make progress to settle disputes. Network Rail workers in the TSSA union voted to accept a 5% pay increase this year, with 4% next year and a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies until 2025. Health workers who are members of Unite and Unison in Scotland including some paramedics, nurses, midwives, and support staff accepted a 7.5% pay deal. However, with many more strike dates dotting the calendar across January, there is still a long way to go. Disagreements between the government and trade unions continue to grow as RMT's (National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers) general secretary Mick Lynch has accused the government of failing to help secure a deal between railway workers and railway companies.

As strikes continue to impact the public, Savanta ComRes generated a poll in October 2022 which revealed that 60% generally support workers taking industrial action, while 33% opposed.

How industrial actions works

Industrial action occurs when trade union members are in a dispute with their employers that can’t be solved through negotiations. If majority of the members affected support it through a properly organised postal vote, or ballots, the industrial action takes place.

There are three main forms of industrial action:

  • Strike: workers refuse to work for the employer

  • Action short of a strike: workers take action such as working to rule, go slows, overtime bans or call-out bans

  • Lock-out: work stoppage where the employer stops workers from working

Role of trade unions

Trade unions are groups of employees who exist to protect and further the interests of their members by negotiating over working conditions such as wages. This is done by collective bargaining, or, negotiating agreements with employers to represent the views of their members.

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