UK strikes continue as pay disputes escalate

(Xinhua) 13:57, June 07, 2023

LONDON, June 6 (Xinhua) -- After a year of chaos, widespread strikes in the United Kingdom (UK) continued in early June, disrupting travel schedules across the country. The industrial action shows no sign of abating, and the economic impact is already severe.

More than 1,700 drivers employed by bus operator Arriva will stage a four-day strike later this month in a dispute over pay, mainly affecting routes in North and East London, the Unite union said on Tuesday.

Drivers have rejected a 7 percent pay increase as the real inflation rate is much higher, the union said. "The strike action is set to create travel chaos across London," Unite regional officer Steven Stockwell said.

In another wage dispute, members of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) working for 14 train companies walked out on June 2 as they, too, had rejected a pay offer.

"We have to pursue our industrial campaign to win a negotiated settlement on jobs, pay and conditions," RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said. "Ministers cannot just wish this dispute away."

Then, last Saturday, more than 12,000 members of the train drivers' union ASLEF took part in a walkout in a long-running dispute over pay, causing difficulties for weekend travelers.

"Most of the drivers have not had a pay increase at all since 2019. With inflation still well over 10 percent and the cost of living spiraling, this is not acceptable," the ASLEF said.

The UK has been in the grip of high inflation for more than a year. Latest official data showed the country's Consumer Price Index (CPI) rose by 8.7 percent in the 12 months to April, greatly exceeding the consensus and the Bank of England's forecast.

This has eroded people's real income. When adjusted for inflation, average total pay, which includes bonuses, among UK employees fell 3 percent in January to March, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in May.

Households have felt the squeeze amid a worsening cost-of-living crisis. Widespread strikes broke out in summer 2022 and still continue. About 556,000 working days were lost because of labor disputes in March, up from 332,000 in February, the ONS said.

"The ongoing wave of industrial action that has been sweeping the UK has eased since the end of last year, but with little progress being made in negotiations between unions and government it looks set to drag on," economists from the Centre for Economics and Business Research said in May.

While the direct costs of lost working days will amount to 1.2 billion British pounds (1.5 billion U.S. dollars) in the twelve months to June, indirect costs will drive bigger overall impacts, including wider economic, social and environmental costs that disruption to services like rail, education and health causes, they added.

(Web editor: Zhang Kaiwei, Wu Chaolan)


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