Since the summer of 2022, the UK has seen mass walkouts almost every month from nearly every sector. From transport to healthcare to education, these strikes all have mutual motivations: wages not rising enough to combat the cost-of-living crisis and unfavourable working conditions.
While some unions are still fighting, others across different sectors have accepted deals.
Fully or partially settled strikes
On 20 March 2023, RMT Union members voted in favour of a pay offer from Network Rail. The results were overwhelming: out of a 90% turnout, 76% decided to accept the offer, which entails a 9% pay rise over two years.
However, this does not mean train strikes are completely over. Other RMT members spread across 14 train operators have cancelled the industrial action scheduled for 30 March and 1 April, but a deal has not yet been inked between them and the government.
In response to the initial deal, UK Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “I am pleased Network Rail’s RMT members have voted to accept a fair and reasonable 5% plus 4% pay offer, over two years, that the government worked hard to facilitate.”
February saw the over 1,800 bus drivers in London reach a compromise after a pay rise offer.
Abellio employees in the Unite Union have been striking on certain days since the beginning of February, mostly impacting journeys in south and west London. The union, however, recently communicated that its members accepted an offer that outlined that the drivers with over two years’ service would be paid £18 an hour.
The pay increase represents 18% extra on the basic rate, and a lower but still relevant raise on the other salaries too, alongside rest-day pay and overtime.
Abellio London declared that the basic rate pay rise resulted in an extra £100 a week, making the company “one of the highest-paying operators in London”.
No other strike action is planned for bus services, but since only TfL Abellio workers have seen results, there may be more walkouts in the future.
Strikes with discussions taking place
After three days of strikes on 13, 14 and 15 March, during which more than 175,000 appointments and procedures had to be either postponed or cancelled, junior doctors have agreed to official talks with the government about a possible deal.
The British Medical Association is now ready to enter negotiations, demanding “pay restoration” for junior doctors who make up over 45% of the healthcare workforce. Junior doctors’ pay has dropped by 26% in real terms since 2008 and 2009, and in order to compensate for it, they are demanding a 35.3% pay rise.
The Department of Health and Social Care declared on 17 March: “We deeply regret that over 175,000 appointments and procedures were cancelled, despite our offer to start formal talks on the condition strikes were paused.
“However, we are pleased the BMA has now accepted our offer to enter talks based on the same terms as with the agenda for change unions, which concluded positively this week. We want to find a fair settlement which recognises the crucial role of junior doctors and the wider economic pressures facing the UK, as we have done with other unions.”
Until these talks are concluded, junior doctors will not strike.
After negotiations with the government, an offer has been put forward in the dispute between nurses and the government. Over one million NHS staff, including nurses, midwives, security guards and cleaners, are going to receive a pay rise if the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), UNISON, GMB, the Charted Society of Physiotherapy and the British Dietetic Association members will accept the deal.
If successful, Agenda for Change members will have a non-consolidated 2% pay increase in an individual’s salary for 2022 and 2023. This is after staff received a 4% pay rise in 2022, a 5.5% increase for newly qualified nurses and a 9.3% increase for those on the lowest incomes.
The deal also includes a one-off NHS backlog bonus, to award them for the effort during the pandemic, worth at least £1,250 per person. For the financial year of 2023/24, on the other hand, the deal has offered Agenda for Change staff a permanent 5% pay rise.
However, the deal is not universally supported. Clinical nurse specialist Harry Eccles told the Guardian: “It’s an insulting offer. It goes nowhere near what we set out to achieve. The job for nurses like me is to speak to our colleagues across the United Kingdom, across different unions to say we need to reject this.”
Right now, members of the UK’s biggest health unions are campaigning to refuse the government’s agreement through cross-unions like NHS Workers Say No, which sent out hundreds of leaflets and set up meetings and talks to convince other NHS staff that this offer is well under the UK’s inflation rate. The campaign was unofficially named Vote Reject.
The country’s NHS staff is willing to continue the strikes if that means they will receive a better offer, even if the majority were to vote in favour of the deal. So far, RCN members are the most likely to reject the pay increase and, consequently, go back to industrial action.
Wales is one step ahead and has already voted against an offered financial settlement. Scotland, on the other hand, has accepted the Scottish Government’s pay offer. This corresponds to an average 6.5% pay rise in 2023/24. Wilma Brown, Unison Scotland’s health committee chair, said: “While acceptance of this pay offer removes the spectre of industrial action, there is no room for complacency. This deal does nothing to solve the NHS Scotland staffing crisis.”
At the beginning of March 2023, ambulance workers in England cancelled strike action scheduled for 6 and 20 March after Unite started a conversation with the government.
GMB and Unison also called off the walkouts, since ministers promised detailed meetings to discuss improving the staff’s pay. These promises “relate to a confirmation that any deal will include new money, rather than placing further pressure on NHS budgets, and an indication that discussions about efficiencies and productivity savings will not results in attacks on the conditions of NHS staff”, according to Unite.
Unite’s head of operations, Gail Cartmail, said: “Following further assurances from the government over the weekend, Unite has in good faith agreed to pause the strike action. If the meeting doesn’t meet these assurances, strike action will continue.”
After the strikes in the first two weeks of March, the National Education Union announced that there would not be any extra strike dates for at least a couple of weeks since “intensive” conversations are ongoing with the government.
A statement from the Department for Education said: “In order for talks to begin and, we hope, reach a successful conclusion, the NEU has confirmed it will create a period of calm for two weeks during which time they have said no further strike dates will be announced.”
These conversations involve four main teachers’ unions: the Association of School and College Leaders, National Association of Head Teachers, NASUWT and the NEU, in contact with Gillian Keegan, the education secretary.
Even though no strike dates have been announced in England, the NEU ballot will close in July, meaning that teachers can organise new strike action until then.
The majority of state school teachers in England received a 5% pay rise in 2022, and the government proposed a deal for a 3% increase in pay for 2023/24; however, the NEU rejected it since it was below inflation rates. Teachers in Wales received an offer of 8% for 2022/23 and then a 5% pay rise for the year after.
Scotland, on the other hand, has settled the matter. Unions north of the border have voted in favour of a pay increase of 7% for this year and then a permanent 2% starting from January 2024.
This month on 20, 21 and 22 March saw members of the University and College Union (UCU) walk out. This happened after the 18 planned days of strike action during February was called off after progress on negotiations.
However, after receiving an offer, the union did not communicate it in a formal manner to its members. The offer for 2023/24 was between 5% and 8%, but it was not in line with the inflation percentage. The UCU will then reballot its members across 150 universities in the UK if there is no further progress.
83 universities are striking in the name of pay and working conditions, 62 over the same issues as well as pensions, and five just for pensions.
The unions’ requests are a pay rise covering the inflation rate plus 2%, or 12%, depending on which option is higher. In addition, they are also asking for zero hours and temporary contracts to be abolished.
Unison members also walked out on 20 and 21 March, specifically at Glasgow School of Art and Queen Margaret University, and 25 April will also see staff at Arts University Bournemouth striking.
No deal has been reached with the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), and its members have been on strike since December, planning more walkouts until April 2023.
More than 200 government departments and 100,000 PCS members voted in favour of strike action, demanding a “10% pay rise, pensions justice, job security, and no cuts to redundancy terms”.
This industrial action will affect specific areas as stated on the PCS website.