December 30, 2022 10.00 am This story is over 17 months old

Rewind 2022: The year of the strike action

Strikes have dominated the headlines in 2022

By Local Democracy Reporter

In a year which saw five Education Secretaries, four Chancellors, three Home Secretaries, two Prime Minister resignations, one cost of living crisis and a few shakes of the magic money tree – 2022 was a year of government uncertainty amid an uprising by trade unions and workers.

Industries across the British workforce have been met with intense disputes over treatment and pay for staff, as trade unions lean on the power of the people to get their message across.

Picket lines in Lincolnshire have seen rail networks shut down, call centres emptied, post deliveries delayed, and even criminal sentences adjourned – marking 2022 as the year of industrial action.

Disputes only increased as the year progressed, and the month of December has seen a form of strike action take place across some form of the British workforce every single day.

Whether it was the RMT challenging government’s future plans for the railways, the CWU taking aim at profiteering bosses, or the UCU calling for security and assurances of their jobs, the power of the working people took centre stage in 2022.

This is a brief summary of the strike action we witnessed in Lincolnshire, what the unions were campaigning for, and the impact it had on everyday life for the community.


Trains

A picket line of RMT workers outside Lincoln train station on Wednesday, striking over pay and job security. | Photo: Ellis Karran for The Lincolnite

In 2022, rail companies have faced pushback from staff members, the likes of which many of us have never seen before. Regular industrial action has been called as part of the largest rail dispute in over 30 years.

Orchestrated by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, ASLEF and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, workers have taken part in multiple walkouts and joined picket lines in their protests against what they consider to be unfair pay offers.

Train strikes have been almost a monthly occurrence this year, and in Lincolnshire we have witnessed the impact this can have on our rail system – with services across the county often shutting down when strikes take place.

Unions say that train companies have offered real terms pay cuts to staff, as well as failing to guarantee that job cuts will not be made as the government seeks to plug a COVID-19 imposed gap in the sector.


Royal Mail

Strike action in August from the Communication Workers Union by Lincoln’s Royal Mail delivery office. | Photo: Ellis Karran for The Lincolnite

“Rich get richer, poor get poorer” was the message of Communication Workers Union members during Royal Mail strikes in Lincoln this summer, and they have only continued as the year progressed.

Workers claim that Royal Mail only offered a 2% pay rise to employees, despite inflation tipping over 11% this year, and that the business ‘plead poverty’ while taking money from Royal Mail Group and distributing it to shareholders.

The saga turned ugly in October when Royal Mail announced it would be making 6,000 people redundant next year, blaming not just a struggling business model but striking workers on the decision. The company is preparing for a full year adjusted operating loss of around £350 million.

This simply added fuel to the fire, as the Communication Workers Union again announced more dates for December and put people’s Christmas delivery plans up in the air. Despite months of walkouts and negotiations, we appear no closer to a resolution.


BT and Openreach call centres

Union workers wore masks of the BT Group CEO on the Lincoln picket line, as disputes over pay terms continue. | Photo: Ellis Karran for The Lincolnite

Royal Mail isn’t the only multinational service to be hit by the CWU’s strike action this year, with call centre staff at BT and Openreach also taking a stand against their working conditions on numerous occasions in 2022.

Members of the union notoriously stood outside the BT call centre in Lincoln in October, wearing masks bearing the face of BT Group’s CEO Philip Jansen, who is believed to have earned a 32% pay rise to £3.5 million a year in 2021.

They were joined by 999 call handlers during a series of strikes in October, with CWU member Jonathan Bellshaw saying: “These people are some of the lowest paid in the sector, but the 999 service would collapse without them. It’s a difficult decision but they just can’t put up with it anymore.”

A ‘final’ offer of a further £1,500 fully consolidated pay increase for all CWU-represented employees at BT, Openreach and EE was made in December, going alongside the previous £1,500 flat-rate boost announced in April. Members at the union are now balloting this offer.


Barristers

Barristers went on strike following long drawn-out pay disputes. | Photo: Adobe Stock Image

This dispute was eventually resolved in October, as the justice secretary offered a fresh pay deal on legal aid fees and brought strike action to an end.

According to The Guardian, the offer included a 15% increase in legal aid fees, £3 million of funding for case preparations and £4 million for cross-examinations of vulnerable victims and witnesses.

Despite the Criminal Bar Association initially calling for an immediate 25% increase, 57% of members voted to accept the adjusted terms, which the government say will represent a further £54 million of investment in the criminal bar and solicitors.

The focus will now be on addressing the court hearing backlogs that have been brought on by months of strike action, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.


Ambulance workers

| Screenshot: BBC Look North/BBC News Hub

As strikes continued across the country, perhaps the most alarming call of action of them all came when ambulance workers within the GMB Union voted for industrial action before Christmas – further stretching already acutely struggling NHS services.

Union bosses were said to be outraged by a proposed 4% pay award for staff within the sector, stating that due to the soaring inflation rates of 2022 and the hike in the cost of living, it will translate to a real terms pay cut.

Around 2,000 paramedics, call handlers and other staff members from East Midlands Ambulance Service (covering the Lincolnshire area) joined the strike action as it was claimed the NHS workers are “on their knees” due to not being given what they feel they deserve financially from the government.

Staff at Lincolnshire’s hospitals did not take part in the strike action due to not meeting the threshold of voting numbers, despite those who did vote opting in favour of industrial action alongside ambulance workers with the GMB Union.


University lecturers

Staff at the University of Lincoln are striking over pay, pensions & conditions. | Photo: Joseph Verney for The Lincolnite

Alongside this year of strikes, we also saw the largest pay dispute and eventual calling of industrial action in the history of the higher education sector in 2022, as university lecturers across the country called for better terms of pay and job security.

Over 100 University of Lincoln staff members from the University and College Union held four different picket lines across the campus in November, calling it “the shot across the bows to say that we are serious.”

Union members claim pay in the sector has been cut by a quarter since 2009 in real terms, the number of staff on zero hour contracts has risen and little has been done to address a pay gap between genders, race and disability.

According to graduate Prospect’s website, salaries for higher education lecturers typically range from around £33,797 to £49,553, depending on the university and your experience. At senior lecturer level, they typically earn between £39,152 and £59,135 depending on the same factors.


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