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 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 in favor of a pay strike this fall in what could be the biggest wave of industrial action since the 1970s.

The walkouts could see shortages at hospitals, fire stations, schools and on the transportation network, if negotiations over wage increases cannot be resolved.

Unions say wage offers not keeping pace with surge Cost of lifebut the government says it needs to tackle rising inflation and says raising wages now could cause prices to rise even bigger.

What needs to happen for prices to return to normal? – Latest news on the cost of living

In a Sky News special report, Cost of Living: Wage Wars, we watch how a rift between government and public sector workers threatens to erupt into full-scale strikes similar to those seen in the late 1970s when millions of workers walked off their wages.

At the time, inflation was skyrocketing just as it is today, and unions were demanding bigger pay rises for their members.

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

During a long and freezing winter, strikes broke out; the train conductors, the nurses, the truck drivers – even the gravediggers came out. Towards the end of 1978, garbage collectors went on strike and garbage piled up in the streets.

Now, a threat of a union strike only adds to the challenges facing whoever wins in the contest to replace Boris Johnson in a modern take on an old dispute.

It comes at a sensitive time for the economy, with the Treasury and the Bank of England struggling to contain inflation.

Already this summer, strikes on the railway by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (RMT) have caused widespread disruption across the country.

RMT picket line

In England and Wales, the majority of teachers have been offered a 5% pay rise.

In Scotland, the offer was 2% – both below the rate of inflation.

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

“That’s enough, we don’t have any money”

Rachel Badzire
Image:
Professor Rachel Badzire

Rachel Badzire, a specialist teacher from Cheshire, says her salary of £35,000 a year is not rising enough to match the rising cost of living.

The mother-of-two said: “I don’t overspend. But I notice that where I used to spend £30 or £40, I’m now spending £60.

“I can understand that there is no finite scholarship, there never was, but we cannot simply say that one profession is more valuable than another. A nurse saves lives, but without teachers, where did this foundation come from to enable people to grow and get jobs like nursing.

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

But when it comes to dating, Rachel is indecisive.

“Being a parent myself, students would be upset if teachers weren’t in school. And so I think that adds extra weight to my decision-making.

“That said, if I was elected for strike action, I would lean heavily towards voting for it.”

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‘That’s enough, we don’t have any money’

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“We need to be listened to”

In June, firefighters received an offer of a 2% pay rise, which their union rejected, calling it “wholly insufficient”.

They say that between 2009 and last year the actual pay of firefighters was cut by 12%, amounting to almost £4,000.

Adam Hooks is a full-time firefighter and earns £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 up with inflation, I feel like something has to be done.

“I wish I had enough money to not have to worry.”

Deciding whether to strike or not 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 need to be paid fairly for it.

“We need to be listened to. There are a lot of firefighters who struggle with salaries and just try to pay the bills, let alone have luxuries or something. They just struggle to pay the bills.”

Adam Hooks
Image:
Firefighter Adam Hooks

A nurse replaces her meals with high-calorie shakes

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

“It works out at around £2 per meal,” she said.

“I usually go for a shake, and I have 400 calories, and that will keep me going.

“I’m already £250 in my overdraft and the cost of everything is getting too high. I think a lot of nurses will decide there’s no choice but to go on strike.

“I don’t know who will look after my patients if I take industrial action. This is something I will consider very seriously and if this situation is not resolved and we don’t get the increase in salary we desperately need, so I will strike.”

Katie Sutton
Image:
Nurse Katie Sutton

Nursing salaries have fallen by 10% in real terms

The nursing unions had asked for salary increases above inflation for their members. In Scotland, a 5% offer was made in May.

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

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

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The government claims that an increase in wages in the public sector would lead to an increase in demand for goods and services and that this would lead to higher prices.

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

New forecasts suggest energy bills could hit more than £4,200 in April, wiping out the £15billion support package the government has pledged to help struggling families.

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“I love my job, I can’t give it up”

How have salaries changed over the years?

Sky News’ Data and Forensics team looked at wage developments over the decade to 2021.

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

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

Nurses and firefighters appear to be slightly better off than a decade ago, but this chart doesn’t tell the whole story, as data is only available through 2021.

We have more recent data on the evolution of real incomes in the public sector in general.

As this graph shows, the rapid rise in prices over the past year means 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 ten years ago.

Moreover, even the moderate growth in real wages for firefighters is mediocre compared to previous years.

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

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

As a result, even occupations that have seen moderate wage growth see nothing compared to what we saw in the decades before the financial crash, when we were accustomed to continuous and significant improvements in living standards.

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