Britain teachers, postal workers warn of potential strikes in pay row

A protester demonstrates outside Downing Street in central London, Britain, on June 18, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British teachers and postal workers warned of potential industrial action if their pay doesn't track spiralling inflation, adding to this week's rail strikes and underlining a wider sense of malaise in the workforce amid a growing squeeze on living standards.

Teachers will ballot for a strike in October as a last resort if the government refuses to give them pay rises in line with inflation during negotiations over the summer, National Education Union General Secretary Mary Bousted, which has 460,000 members, told TalkTV on Tuesday (June 21).

Separately, the Communication Workers Union next week will ballot its 115,000 postal workers about proposed strikes over pay, it said on Twitter.

With the Bank of England predicting inflation will reach double digits before the end of the year, Britain is in a broadening cost-of-living crisis that's squeezing household budgets and leading workers to demand pay rises commensurate with price increases.

But ministers have warned restraint is needed to avoid stoking further inflation, suggesting public sector workers face pay deals that won't keep pace with rising prices.

The two potential ballots threaten to add to what British media has already dubbed a "summer of discontent" - evoking the "winter of discontent" of 1978-1979 when the country was hit by widespread strikes that led to the downfall of the then Labour government.

On Tuesday, Britain's rail network was brought almost to a standstill with the industry's biggest strike in 30 years - aimed at securing job guarantees and pay hikes. Criminal barristers have also voted to strike next week over the level of their fees.

Inflation

Further rail strikes are planned for Thursday and Saturday. Mr Mick Lynch, the head of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers that's coordinating the train stoppages, has urged broader action across the economy and raised the possibility of the first general strike since 1926.

Those turning to car journeys to avoid the chaos are faced with paying record fuel prices amid an energy crisis exacerbated by Russia's war on Ukraine.

Ms Bousted told TalkTV some teachers can't afford to fill their tanks to drive to school. Inflation is already at a 40-year high of 9 per cent and the Bank of England forecasts it will peak at more than 11 per cent in October.

The latest inflation report - for the month of May - is due for publication by the Office for National Statistics on Wednesday. Ms Bousted said she'll be asking Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi for "a pay rise that matches tomorrow's new rate of inflation" for teachers.

Pay for many public sector workers, including teachers, police and National Health Service Workers, is set by the government, taking heed of the advice of independent pay review bodies, that will make their recommendations in the coming weeks. Ministers are not obliged to follow their advice, but must give reasons if they don't.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement late on Monday that "too high demands on pay" will "make it incredibly difficult to bring to an end the current challenges facing families around the world with rising costs of living," and he has advocated "pay discipline and restraint".

Ms Bousted said that those remarks are at odds with the premier's expressed ambition of creating a high-wage, high-skill economy.

"This was supposed to be the Boris Johnson who in October in his party conference speech said we're not going back to austerity, we want good wages for all," Ms Bousted said. "So where are we with Boris Johnson and his arguments?"

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