Surge in days lost to strike action in 2016

Rebecca Smith
Southern rail guards are due to walkout again today and tomorrow (Source: Getty)

Talks aimed at averting strikes by British Airways cabin crew over Christmas will be held at conciliation service Acas today as figures obtained by City A.M. show that the number of days lost to industrial action in the first ten months of 2016 has already dwarfed last year’s total.

According to the Office of National Statistics, 281,000 days have been lost to strike action up until 31 October this year, compared to last year’s 170,000.

This year has been marked by waves of industrial action, from the junior doctors’ strike in April to the teachers’ strike in July, and the long-running and ongoing Southern rail dispute with RMT members over the role of guards. Train drivers’ union Aslef added to the chaos on the commuter route last week with their own walkouts.

Read more: Travel chaos: Pilots and baggage handlers have voted for industrial action

Southern rail guards are due to walkout again today and tomorrow.

The president of the RMT Sean Hoyle has reportedly said unions were coordinating action to “bring down this bloody working-class-hating Tory government”. The union’s general secretary denied this was the case, telling the BBC his members would “rather be at work” but had genuine concerns about safety on the network.

The festive period is set to be marred by a new round of disruption. Workers at the Post Office, British Airways, and UK airport staff have all announced industrial action around Christmas. Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic pilots have voted for action short of a full strike.

Read more: Angry commuters protest as Southern axes services for third day this week

Efforts are being made to head off some of the walkouts. Talks aimed at averting strikes by baggage handlers and other staff at 18 airports will be held at Acas this week.

Yesterday, Post Office sought to reassure customers that it will be “business as usual” despite strike action that involves 300 directly managed Post Office branches on 19 and 20 December as well as on Christmas Eve. Post Office supply chain will be affected by industrial action on 22 and 23 December.

General secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O’Grady, said the causes of recent strikes "differ from strike to strike" and are specific to the respective workplace.

Read more: #Southernstrike: The funniest tweets from miserable commuters

Tom Kerr Williams, employment law and industrial relations expert at PwC, said that while the issues are "seemingly unrelated", from pensions to pay to automation, "what they have in common is workers who feel uncertain as a result of economic pressure".

"If you are in a unionised business, a good time to react is at Christmas when most employers will be under pressure to keep customers happy," he added.

A CBI spokesperson said: "Strike action should always be a last resort, and based on a strong mandate from the workforce over a genuine workplace issue. This is especially true when strikes cause significant disruption to the public.

"Union leaders must return to the negotiating table in order to find sustainable solutions to the issues at hand."

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