Trains, Royal Mail and nurses: Every strike planned in run up to Christmas

From ambulances to buses and postal deliveries, few public services will be unaffected by industrial action in Britain’s new ‘winter of discontent’

Jane Dalton,Andy Gregory
Tuesday 13 December 2022 07:15 GMT
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Christmas Eve among six more strike dates announced for Royal Mail workers

As inflation has climbed steadily throughout year, workers have seen rising prices eroding their earnings – just as employers have been trying to make savings or modernise working practices to cope with increasing costs.

The result? Clashes over pay, redundancies, pensions and terms and conditions.

A new “winter of discontent” had begun even before Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement on 17 November, which left householders everywhere feeling even worse off.

And with the cost of living crisis set to deepen, the disputes will inevitably grow fiercer.

These are the professions and industries for which strike dates have already been announced.

Nurses

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has announced members in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will strike on 15 and 20 December. Up to 100,000 workers are expected to take part in the pre-Christmas walkouts.

Only one NHS employer in Wales will not go ahead with strike action. RCN members in England will strike at half the locations where the legal threshold for action was met. The union added that the number of employers affected will increase in January unless formal negotiations with the government are held.

The union is calling for a pay rise of 5 per cent above inflation, saying that despite a pay rise earlier this year, experienced nurses were worse off by 20 per cent because of successive below-inflation awards since 2010.

The RCN’s mandate to organise strikes runs until early May next year.

The RCN said that most nursing staff had voted to strike over pay and patient safety (PA)

Railways

Services across the country will be crippled on several dates across December as members of RMT take strike action.

The RMT has revealed that more than 40,000 workers across Network Rail and 14 train operating companies will stage a series of 48-hour walk-outs on 13, 14, 16 and 17 December and on 3, 4, 6 and 7 January 2023, impacting Christmas and the New Year.

The RMT has also issued an overtime ban for its members across the railway network from 18 December to 2 January.

Avanti RMT union members are also due to strike on 11 and 12 December, while more than 1,000 railway cleaners will also take national strike action for the first time on 22, 23 and 31 December.

Bosses who want to cut 1,900 jobs say the railway has not recovered from the coronavirus pandemic, is currently losing millions a day and is in desperate need of modernisation. Some services will be severely disrupted and others will not run at all.

A picket line outside Euston station in London (PA)

Royal Mail

Christmas postal deliveries will be hit if, as planned, Royal Mail workers stage six fresh strikes next month, including on Christmas Eve, in a dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said its members would walk out on 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24 December.

Royal Mail bosses, who have been consulting on plans to cut around 10,000 full-time jobs by August, have offered 9 per cent pay rises.

The company is urging customers to “allow plenty of time” when posting items this year – with first-class deliveries needing to be sent by 21 December in order to reach recipients in time for Christmas, and second-class items two days earlier.

The Communication Workers Union said its members would strike throughout December (PA)

Ambulances

Unison and GMB has announced that thousands of 999 call handlers, ambulance technicians, paramedics and their colleagues working for ambulance services in the North East, North West, London, Yorkshire and the South West are set to strike on 21 December.

The unions are calling for action on pay and a big rise in staff numbers, warning that unless these things happen, services will continue to decline. Health workers belonging to Unison and working in Northern Ireland have already voted to take action over pay and staffing.

In Scotland, Unison is recommending its NHS members vote to accept the latest offer from the Scottish government, which will see a £2,205 increase for the lowest-paid staff and more for those on higher bands.

That vote closes on 12 December. In Wales, the threshold necessary for strike action was not met anywhere, and its health committee is to meet to decide on its next steps.

Heathrow

Disruption is expected to flights from Heathrow caused by a 72-hour strike by ground handlers, from 16 to 18 December.

Passengers have been warned to expect “disruption, delays and potentially cancellations” after another strike by Menzies ground handlers was called by the Unite union.

Ten airlines spread across Heathrow Terminals 2, 3 and 4 will be “particularly affected”, including Aer Lingus, Air Canada, American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Egyptair, Finnair, Lufthansa, Qantas, Swiss and TAP Portugal.

The 72-hour stoppage by 350 workers is part of a pay dispute, with the union saying that a flat-rate increase offered by Menzies “amounts to a real terms pay cut”.

Ground handlers employed by a private contractor at Heathrow airport will strike in a row over pay (PA)

Border Force staff

Border Force staff will walk out in a row over pay, pensions and jobs from 23 to 26 December and again between 28 and 31 December at Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Cardiff.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said around 1,000 officials at passport control would walk out in a push for a 10 per cent pay rise – with general secretary Mark Serwotka adding it would have a “significant impact” on Britons’ travel plans.

At busier airports with constrained space – particularly Heathrow – long queues could lead to passengers being held on planes rather than disembarking.

This could trigger delays for incoming and departing aircraft, putting pressure on a system that has little spare capacity and possibly leading to cancellations and diversions.

The army will start training soldiers to replace Border Force officers who walk out, it has been reported.

Road workers

Unions have announced 12 days of strikes by highway workers which could bring chaos to the roads over the busy Christmas and New Year period.

The PCS union said that National Highways employees, who plan, design, build, operate and maintain the country’s roads, will take part in a series of staggered strikes from 16 December to 7 January.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the walkout over pay could bring the country’s roads to a standstill.

“We know our members’ action could inconvenience travellers who plan to visit their relatives over the festive period, but our members have been placed in this situation by a government that won’t listen to its own workforce,” Mr Serwotka said.

Eurostar

Members of the RMT union working at London St Pancras as security staff for Eurostar will walk out on four days in a dispute over pay on 16, 18, 22 and 23 December.

The dates have been chosen to coincide with what are expected to be the busiest days before Christmas, especially for British passengers heading abroad on trains through the Channel Tunnel.

More than 100 security staff will take part in the action, and it will “severely affect Eurostar services and travel plans for people over the December period”, according to the RMT.

The security staff are contracted out to the facilities management company Mitie, and the RMT says that hourly pay is as low as £10.66.

Civil servants

Driving examiners and rural payment officers have announced strike dates for PCS members.

Staff at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency are striking across varying parts of the UK on 24 days between 13 December and 10 January, while workers with the Rural Payments Agency in Workington, Newcastle and Caernarfon will stage 18 days of industrial action over a similar period.

Civil servants in the Home Office, Department for Transport and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are also due to take industrial action, joining their above mentioned colleagues and affecting services ranging from passport control at ports to driving tests and the issuing of driving licences.

PCS said action will start in mid-December and continue for a month in a row over pay, jobs and pensions.

Members of the PCS union have voted to strike over pay, pensions and jobs (PA)

Buses

Bus strikes are set for Abellio services.

Abellio staff will strike on 9, 15 and 16 December, affecting routes mostly in west and south London.

The GMB union said two-thirds of its members working for Stagecoach in the city rejected an offer below the 10 per cent being demanded.

Almost 200 drivers have taken several days of strike action already.

Firefighters are also set to vote on strike action (PA)

Firefighters

Firefighters are due to vote on strikes after rejecting a 5 per cent pay offer that union members say is a real-terms pay cut.

Members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will be balloted in the coming weeks on whether to stage industrial action.

If they vote in favour, it threatens the first national strike over pay since 2003.

The strike ballot is set to be open from 5 December to 30 January.

Charity workers

More than 600 workers at the homelessness charity Shelter have taken the “unprecedented” decision to strike this month.

They began a two-week spate of industrial action on Monday 5 December, after Unite said a 3 per cent pay increase this year has left many of Shelter’s own staff unable to pay their rent.

“It is unforgivable that workers at Shelter find themselves actually being haunted by the prospect of being made homeless,” Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said.

The union has accused the charity’s management of refusing to enter into meaningful negotiations.

Members of the Unite union who work for housing and homeless charity Shelter on the picket line outside their offices in Old Street (PA)

Meterologists, scientists and health inspectors

While not expected to take place until the new year, tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, managers and technical experts across the public sector are expected to vote for industrial action.

Prospect union found “extraordinary” backing for industrial action in an indicative ballot of 30,000 members, Unite’s Sharon Graham told The Times on Monday.

This paves the way for potential strikes at the Met Office, alongside health and safety inspectors, chemical weapons scientists at Porton Down and experts tackling bird flu and Covid, the paper reported.

The armed forces, emergency services, government agencies, and several news outlets, including The Independent, use the Met Office for their weather forecasts.

Post offices

The Post Office has said it is not involved in the dispute between CWU and Royal Mail that will result in multiple strikes across December.

However, it stressed that while branches will remain open, there will be disruption to letters and parcel collections on the dates of industrial action.

Around 1,500 CWU Post Office members took action in August and similar numbers are likely to walk out again next time in a dispute that’s separate from the Royal Mail one.

Staff who deliver cash and supplies to sub-post offices, process finances and work in administration have backed industrial action for more pay.

The CWU has not announced a date for fresh strikes, saying only that they are due to go ahead next year in protest at a 3 per cent pay offer and one-off payment of £500.

Striking postal workers outside the Royal Mail Islington Delivery Office in November (PA)

Offshore

Offshore workers went on strike for two days in mid-November in a dispute over pay and more industrial action is planned in the coming days.

Unite Scotland said its members on the Repsol assets joined an overtime ban and 48-hour stoppage on Wednesday 16 November and Thursday 17 November.

A further 48-hour stoppage was planned for 8 to 9 December at the offshore energy sites of BP and Repsol. These dates replace strike dates previously planned for 30 November and 1 December. Around 146 members are involved in the dispute.

Given the companies’ large profits in recent months, Unite is arguing for staff to receive pay increases that both keep up with inflation and account for alleged past cuts to workers’ benefits.

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