Millions of public sector workers prepare to vote on strikes in what could be the biggest wave of industrial action since the 1970s |  UK News

Millions of public sector workers prepare to vote on strikes in what could be the biggest wave of industrial action since the 1970s | UK News

Millions of public sector workers are expected to vote to strike over wages this fall in what could be the biggest wave of industrial action since the 1970s.

The strikes could create shortages at hospitals, fire stations, schools and on the transportation network, if negotiations over wage increases are not resolved.

Unions say wage offers are not up to the mark cost of livingBut the government says it must tackle rising inflation and says raising wages now could push prices higher still.

What must happen for prices to return to normal? – Latest cost of living news

In a special Sky News report, Cost of Living: Wage Wars, us watch how a rift between government and public sector workers risks erupting into large-scale strikes similar to those seen in the late 1970s when millions of workers walked out over wages.

Back then, inflation was skyrocketing as it is now, and the unions demanded higher wage increases for their members.

But the Labor government, led by James Callaghan, refused.

During a long and bitterly cold winter, strikes broke out; the train conductors, the nurses, the truckers, even the gravediggers left. Towards the end of 1978, garbage collectors went on strike and garbage piled up in the streets.

Now, a strike threat by the unions it only adds to the challenges facing whoever wins the contest to replace Boris Johnson in a modern version of an old feud.

It comes at a delicate time for the economy, with both the Treasury and the Bank of England struggling to control inflation.

Already this summer, rail strikes by members of The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) union have caused widespread disruption across the country.

RMT picket line

In England and Wales, most teachers have been offered a 5% salary increase.

In Scotland, the offer was two per cent, both below the rate of inflation.

Teachers’ unions say this represents a significant cut in real terms from the salaries of most teachers and all school leaders, and that salaries have already fallen by 20% in real terms since 2010.

‘Enough is enough, we have no money’

Rachel Badzire
Image:
Teacher Rachel Badzire

Rachel Badzire, a special needs teacher from Cheshire, says her £35,000-a-year salary isn’t rising enough to match the rising cost of living.

The mum-of-two said: “I don’t overspend. But I realize where I could spend £30 or £40, now I’m spending £60.”

“I can understand that there is no finite bag, there never has been, but we can’t just say that one profession is more valuable than another. A nurse saves lives, but without teachers, where does that foundation come from for people to grow and develop? nursing jobs.

“I think more and more people are saying enough is enough, we don’t have money.”

But when it comes to leaving, Rachel is torn.

“Being a parent myself, students would be interrupted by teachers who are not in school. And I think that adds extra weight to my decision-making.”

“Having said that, if I were voted to strike, I would be very inclined to vote for it.”

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‘Enough is enough, we have no money’

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‘We need to be heard’

In June, firefighters were made an offer of a 2% wage increase, which their union rejected, describing as “totally inadequate”.

They say that between 2009 and last year, the real salary of firefighters has fallen by 12%, reaching almost 4,000 pounds sterling.

Adam Hooks is a full-time firefighter earning £32,244 a year.

“When you get to a point where you can’t cover the bills because inflation is so high and you’re not even keeping close to inflation, I feel like something has to be done.

“I would like to have enough money so I don’t have to worry about things.”

Deciding whether or not to strike is a difficult decision.

“No firefighter wants to strike, and many of us live in our community. We do the work because we want to help people. But we have to be paid fairly for it.

“We need to be heard. There are a lot of firefighters who are struggling with wages and just trying to pay the bills, not caring about having any kind of luxury or things like that. They are struggling just to pay the bills.”

adam hooks
Image:
Firefighter Adam Hooks

Nurse swaps meals for high-calorie shakes

Nurses like Katie Sutton are turning to more drastic measures to save money. Katie has started eating high-calorie shakes instead of preparing proper meals.

“It works out to around £2 a meal,” he said.

“I usually make a smoothie, it’s 400 calories and it will keep me going.

“I already have £250 in my overdraft and the cost of it all is too high. I think a lot of nurses will decide there is no choice but to strike.”

“I’m not sure who will take care of my patients if I take industrial action. It’s something I will consider very seriously and if this situation is not resolved and we don’t get the pay raise we desperately need, then I will go on strike.” .”

Katie Sutton
Image:
nurse katie sutton

Nursing wages have fallen 10% in real terms

Nursing unions had asked for wage increases above inflation for its members. In Scotland, a 5% offer was made in May.

In July, nurses in England and Wales were told they would receive a pay rise of at least £1,400, which is an average rise of around 4% for most nurses.

The Royal College of Nursing said this means the value of nurses’ wages has fallen by 10% in real terms since 2012.

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The government says that an increase in public sector wages would cause an increase in the demand for goods and services and that would cause prices to rise.

But the cost of living isn’t slowing down, either.

New forecasts suggest energy bills could rise to more than £4,200 in April, ending the £15bn support package the government has pledged to help families in distress.

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“I love my job, I can’t quit”

How have salaries changed over the years?

Sky News’ data and forensics team has looked at how wages have changed over the decade to 2021.

While average wages have risen, many public sector workers are worse off than they were a decade ago because wages have not risen as much as prices.

The real salary – salaries adjusted for inflation – is 3.1% lower than in 2012 for primary teachers and 1.9% lower for secondary teachers.

Nurses and firefighters seem to be doing marginally better than they were a decade ago, but this chart doesn’t tell the full story, as data is only available through 2021.

We have more recent data on how real earnings have changed for the public sector overall.

As this graph shows, rapid price increases over the last year mean that public sector wages are 4.1% lower than in 2012 in real terms.

This has widened the gap between the public and private sectors, where average salaries are still 4.3% higher than a decade ago.

Furthermore, even the moderate real wage growth experienced by firefighters is poor compared to previous years.

This chart shows how the financial crisis ended decades of steady wage growth. Between 1988 and 1998, real wages increased by more than a fifth.

Whereas, in 2022 we are poorer than in 2006 as inflation has eroded our purchasing power.

So even professions that have seen modest wage growth see nothing compared to what we saw in the decades before the financial crisis, when we were used to continual big improvements in living standards.

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