Christmas strikes 2016: From Southern rail to British Airways, why's everyone striking?

Rebecca Smith
From BA to Southern rail: The festive period has been beset by announcements of industrial action
From BA to Southern rail: The festive period has been beset by announcements of industrial action (Source: Getty)

A raft of Christmas strikes is set to unfold this week, with travel particularly affected.

Around 3,000 staff at various Crown post offices are set to walk out today, Tuesday and Saturday, while members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union unleash their latest industrial action on Southern rail today and tomorrow, with an ongoing overtime ban by train drivers' union Aslef.

Meanwhile British Airways is holding talks to avert a strike by its cabin crew at conciliation service Acas today. BA staff belonging to the Unite union will be striking on Christmas Day and Boxing Day if a resolution isn't found.

So why all the industrial action, and why now?

The unions insist the disputes are varied.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The causes of recent strikes differ from strike to strike, ranging from safety on the railways to closures of post offices. Each dispute is specific to that workplace."

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

He added: "It would be a mistake to think that the answer to the current spate of industrial unrest is to make legal changes to crack down further on the right to strike."

There is, though, a need for "a fundamental rethink" of how to handle employment disputes, which allows more people to have their voices heard and properly balances risk between employers and employees.

Post Office

Chaos on the cards?
Chaos on the cards? Post Office says not (Source: Getty)


Action on 19, 20, 22, 23, 24 December.

Workers at Crown post offices, the larger branches often found on the high street, are protesting against pension changes, job security and closures. Then on Wednesday and Thursday, workers who supply sub-post offices with cash join the fray, according to the Communications Workers Union (CWU).

What the company says:

"It will be business as usual in almost all of our network," Kevin Gilliland, group network and sales director at Post Office. "Any action will affect fewer than three hundred of our branches and many of these will be open to maintain services for customers preparing for Christmas."

What the union says:

CWU's assistant secretary Andy Furey said: "Our members want the Post Office management to pause its closure and privatisation programme, hold off on its planned pensions changes and pause commit to sitting down with us and with the other key stakeholders of this Great British institution."

Southern rail

Southern has been troubled by industrial action for months
Southern has been troubled by industrial action for months (Source: Getty)


A combination of Aslef and the RMT have walkouts planned for the festive period. Last week's strikes involving Aslef resulted in all Southern services being cancelled, affecting 300,000 passengers. The upcoming action is expected to affect services on the following dates:

19-20 December (RMT conductors' strike)

31 December-2 January (RMT conductors' strike)

9-14 January (Aslef and RMT drivers' strike)

Talks aimed at resolving the dispute, which the unions say is over safety; Southern and the government say is politically motivated, ended with no deal last week.

What the union says:

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef: "Industrial action is always the last resort. We don’t want to inconvenience the travelling public, and our members don’t want to lose money. We are going on strike because we have been forced into this position by an intransigent management that has not been prepared to negotiate with us."

What the company says:

"Aslef claims drivers closing doors is inherently unsafe. The Office of Rail and Road and the Rail Safety & Standards Board have stated that drivers closing doors is a safe mode of operation. For 30 years trains have been running up and down the country's railways this way and today over a third of the national train network runs this way."

British Airways

Talks are being held to stave off a strike today
Talks are being held to stave off a strike today (Source: Getty)


Talks are being held today in an effort to avoid a cabin crew strike over Christmas. Members of the Unite union are planning to walk out on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in a row over pay and conditions. Cabin crew had rejected a two per cent pay rise offer on Wednesday, with 1,200 members voting for action.

What the union says:

"Our members have overwhelmingly voted for strike action because British Airways’ pay rates are indefensible and the crew are at breaking point," said Unite regional officer Matt Smith. "Mixed fleet crew earn just over the minimum wage and below the national average. Significant numbers of crew are taking on second jobs, many go to work unfit to fly because they can’t afford to be sick."

What the company says:

A BA spokesperson said: "We remain focused on resolving this issue as quickly as possible without any disruption to customers. We have proposed a fair and reasonable pay increase to Mixed Fleet cabin crew which is in line with that accepted by other British Airways colleagues and which will ensure their reward levels remain in line with cabin crew at our airline competitors."

Airport staff

Airport workers plan to strike over pay
Airport workers plan to strike over pay (Source: Getty)


Check-in staff, baggage handlers and cargo crew are planning a 48-hour walkout from 23 December. More than 1,500 workers at Swissport will walkout in a row over pay and conditions, according to Unite union.

Unite has Swissport members at Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Luton and numerous other airports including Edinburgh and Manchester.

What the company says:

A Swissport spokesman said: "This is another in a series of recent examples where a minority of trade union members are acting in a cynical fashion to disrupt the travel plans of the public and attempt to hold employers to ransom, without giving thought to the long term job security of staff, and the commercial viability of employers."

What the union says:

Unite national officer for civil air transport Oliver Richardson said: "Our members are only taking this industrial action as a last resort in a bid to reach a fair settlement – our members have not had a pay rise since 2014."

“The dispute has been compounded by the high-handed attitude of the management in making proposals that would seriously impact the workforce’s terms and conditions, such as freezing overtime payments."

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