Suffolk's summer of discontent could stretch into autumn, unions say
- Credit: ARCHANT/PA
The strikes hitting Suffolk this summer could continue into the autumn and winter, as union bosses say further walkouts are on the way.
Today Greater Anglia has cancelled more than 90% of its services and told passengers not to travel after train drivers staged a 24-hour walkout following a dispute over pay.
It comes one week after train services in the county were crippled after the RMT staged the largest rail strike in four decades.
Earlier this week members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) – including some of the 3,000 BT workers at Adastral Park – voted to strike in another pay dispute.
And further disputes in the East could erupt into strike action as soon as next month.
Richard Allday, a member of Unite's executive council and head of the union's Suffolk and Essex road haulage branch, said: "The chickens are coming home to roost.
"We've been through an extraordinary two years and people are finally waking up to the fact that in a very real sense when they thought they were clapping other essential workers during Covid a very many of them were also actually clapping themselves, although they didn't realise it.
"That feeling of self-worth and anger at not being recognised by their employers, I think is starting to seep through in a way that I don't think we've seen for literally decades."
Mr Allday said he thought the phrase "summer of discontent" was "optimistic".
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"I don't see it being limited to the summer," he said. "I think what you're seeing is right across society in the world of work, people sitting back and saying we've had enough."
What other strikes could we see?
On Thursday, CWU members at the BT group voted for strike action.
This includes those working for BT and Openreach.
However, it does not necessarily mean a strike will happen.
Paul Moffat, eastern regional secretary of the CWU, said: "The fact is that our members came back and told us, we've had enough.
"We will now go back to the table and offer them a chance to sit down and negotiate and come up with some decent pay raises."
Mr Moffat declined to put a percentage on what the union was looking for but said: "Nothing's ruled out, nothing's ruled in.
"This could be rumbling on well through the summer and into the autumn, but as sure as eggs are eggs we will take our members out on strike, should they not come up with a revised pay package that's suitable."
A BT spokesman called the result of the ballot "disappointing" and vowed to "keep our customers and the country connected".
Rail services across the county have already been disrupted by three days of RMT strikes and are set to be further disrupted today by strikes called by the Aslef union.
Last Saturday, the final day of the RMT strikes, union chief Mick Lynch said he was not ruling out further strikes, but no dates had yet been set.
Tim Shoveller, Network Rail's lead negotiator, said talks held this week between the two sides had been "constructive" and he was "cautiously optimistic" that an agreement could be struck in order to avoid further strike action.
Postal workers are also being balloted by the CWU on whether to take strike action as part of a dispute over pay.
Mr Moffat said workers had been offered a 2% pay raise, which he described as "ludicrous".
The ballot on strike action closes on July 19. But no walkouts would take place for several weeks after the ballot closes, due to negotiations and a mandatory two-week notice period.
Binmen and nurses
Bosses at UNISON say 80,000 members in the East – including council workers and nurses – are waiting for central pay reviews.
Tim Roberts, UNISON Eastern regional secretary, recently told this newspaper: “Staff across Suffolk’s public services are reeling from the worst cost of living crisis in decades.
“Pay for nurses, refuse workers, teaching assistants, hospitals porters, PCSOs, care workers and millions of other workers who kept the country going during the pandemic is being gobbled up by inflation.
“Staff in local government and the NHS are now stuck playing a waiting game. We’re expecting the offer from the NHS pay review body any day and are also waiting for the local government employers’ national body to come back on our offer.
“In both cases, the government could make these talks much more positive by loosening the purse strings and giving our health service and local councils the cash they need to pay staff properly.
“Staff are fed up of seeing the value of their pay go down year after year and many are already leaving to find better paid and less stressful jobs in the private sector. Unless we see decent offers, staff may be left with no options but to strike.”
It is understood that any potential strike action would not take place for several months.
The National Education Union (NEU) will consult its members this autumn on whether they back strike action. Pay cuts and high workload are among the major gripes the trade union has raised.
Graham White, from the Suffolk NEU, told this newspaper: "No teacher takes strike action lightly, but they have a responsibility for their own families as well as their pupils.
"And if their own families are suffering through the cost-of-living crisis because teachers are not being paid enough, then staff have to put their family first and that, unfortunately, means that they may well have to take strike action."
Barristers will continue strike action despite the Government announcing a fee rise later this year, according to a body which represents them.
Court walkouts began across England and Wales earlier this week in a dispute over pay and conditions. Further action is planned over the next three weeks.
Criminal barristers will receive a 15% fee rise from the end of September, meaning they will earn £7,000 more per year, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said on Thursday, in a bid to stop the action.
A spokesman for the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) said the announcement was "nothing new" and would not be backdated for cases already underway.
He said: "It means that it will be years before those cases on old rates are paid out and years more before any new cases taken on this autumn will actually be paid and land in the pockets of specialist criminal barristers, whose numbers have already been reduced by a quarter in the past five years and they simply cannot sustain the assault on their remuneration and working conditions."
GPs have threatened the possibility of industrial action over a contract that forces them to offer appointments at evenings and weekends.
Medics at the British Medical Association (BMA) annual conference in Brighton called on BMA leaders to act upon a 2021 indicative ballot and “organise opposition” to the contract, “including industrial action if necessary”.
While GPs would be unlikely to stop providing emergency and urgent care, they could refuse to carry out other routine work and they could cut their hours.
A new ballot would be needed for industrial action to happen, with more than 50% of eligible GP members voting in favour.