The number of working days lost to strike action in the UK over the summer topped 560,000, stats out today reveal, and unions have warned this year’s total could hit the highest yearly number this century.
The combined September and August figure is the highest two month total in over a decade, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Rising strike action has been driven by workers downing tools in protest against not receiving inflation busting pay rises. And, unions said more days will be lost unless workers receive a “decent” pay rise.
A Communication Workers Union (CWU) spokesperson told City A.M.: “By the end of 2022, Britain will likely have seen the biggest number of days lost to strikes in this century so far.”
“Millions of people are sick of being expected to work harder and harder, for less and less, for bosses whose profits have never been better,” they added.
Royal Mail workers represented by the CWU have voted to walk out at the end of November, including Black Friday on 25 November. The group has called off strikes pencilled in earlier in the month.
Inflation has skyrocketed over the last year, led higher by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sending energy prices up and businesses passing on high wage growth.
The consumer price index hit a 40-year high of 10.1 per cent in September, but figures out tomorrow are expected to show it climbed to near 11 per cent last month.
Inflation has ripped this year, wiping out pay growth
Pay growth has lagged behind price rises for 11 consecutive months on some measures, incentivising workers to strike in a bid to secure inflation-matching wage increases.
Darren Morgan, director of labour and economic statistics at the ONS, said: “August and September saw well over half a million working days lost to strikes, the highest two-month total in more than a decade.”
“With real earnings continuing to fall, it’s not surprising that employers we survey are telling us most disputes are about pay,” he added.
Communications and transport workers have voted for strike action at rates not seen for many years, fuelling most of the increase in working days lost, the ONS said.
Around 100,000 civil servants last week backed strike action.
The ONS also revealed today private sector pay growth rose 6.6 per cent over the last three months, a historic jump, while public sector wages increased 2.2 per cent, the biggest gap since records began.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt at Thursday’s budget is expected to cut public spending to balance the UK’s finances, suggesting civil servants’ pay could stay lower than private sector workers’ for some time.
Economists and the Bank of England have warned elevated inflation could embed in the UK economy if workers demand high pay rises and businesses raise prices steeply in response to present day prices rising rapidly.
These so-called “second round effects” can lead to an inflationary spiral that requires huge interest rate increases to tame, similar to what happened in Britain in the 1970s.
The Bank has raised borrowing costs eight times in a row to three per cent.
UK wages are more responsive to labour market fundamentals due to few jobs being linked to union negotiations.
“With labour shortages showing very little signs of improvement over recent months, companies will remain under pressure to continue raising pay,” James Smith, developed market economist at ING, told City A.M.
City A.M. has contacted Royal Mail and other unions for comment.