Communication Workers Union members on strike in Cardiff
Communication Workers Union members on strike in Cardiff

Widespread strikes to continue over Christmas as unions left with ‘no alternative’

Thousands of essential workers across Wales will form picket lines as they demand higher wages

FIVE separate trade unions are set to strike in Wales this month as the Cost-of-living crisis brings some of the most essential workers in the country to breaking point.

Inflation is currently sitting at 11.1%, which means that although workers across the country have seen their wages increase in 2022 they have not risen as much or as quickly as prices have.

In real terms wages have actually fallen by, on average, 2.9% over the last 12 months, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

That has led to widespread industrial action by multiple unions. But who is striking and what do they want?

Real term wages have decreased by 4.2% in the public sector over the three months to October

Postal strikes

One of the first trade unions to announce industrial action this year was the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

There have been six CWU strikes so far this winter – three each in November and December – with another four to come before Christmas (on December 14, 15, 23 and 24).

The dispute is between Royal Mail workers and Royal Mail. The CWU is asking for a wage increase that is in line with inflation.

The average wage for a Royal Mail worker In Wales is around £24,000 a year.

More than the need for immediate financial support, Welsh branch secretary for the CWU, Jason Richards, said these are “deeply concerning times for the industry and the country.”

He said: “Royal Mail imposed a 2% wage increase on us back in May and things have gone downhill since.

“It’s more than just the money. Royal Mail are trying to turn us into robots by installing technology that punishes you for stopping too long on your route.

“If they’re going to demand higher standards then it’s only fair that we receive better working conditions. We have no alternative but to strike.”

In response, Royal Mail said they have offered an “enhanced pay deal of 9%” and a “number of concessions”.

Royal Mail workers on strike in Cardiff

Mr Richards argued that the concessions mentioned will ruin the postal service as we know it.

He said: “As it stands, anyone off sick is not getting paid. My phone is ringing off the hook with people at home with stress.

“The proposed two-tier workforce will look to get rid of all of us within the union and introduce new employees who will start on 20% less pay.”

After seven months of strikes, the CWU are keen to reiterate that this is “the last thing any of us want to do” but will continue to do so for the good of its members.

Nursing strikes

One of the most unlikely unions set to form a picket line is the Royal College of Nursing (RCN).

The average wage for a nurse in Wales is around £30,000 a year.

The RCN is in direct talks with the UK and Welsh Government and asking for a wage increase of 5% above inflation – so around 16%. They have stated, however, that they are willing to negotiate before the scheduled strike action.

Wales-wide strikes are set for December 15 and 20, including Cardiff and Vale University Health Board.

Associate director for the RCN, Sandy Harding, described a “deficit in Welsh nursing”.

She said: “We’re simply not getting the nurses through. We missed our quotas on nurses last year and that ultimately affects the level of care we can offer.

“All of our staff are burned out after the pandemic and now the Cost-of-living (crisis). Why would anyone want to work here under these conditions?”

In response, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Steve Barclay, said that he is “disappointed RCN members voted for industrial action”.

He claimed that even Labour cannot get behind the proposed wage increase, as nurses were given a £1,400 pay rise earlier this year.

“They’re taking the mick,” said Ms Harding, who has been a nurse on the NHS for 38 years

“People don’t seem to realise how bad things are now and how bad they’re going to get.

“We’re doing this for patients as much as anyone. We don’t want to see the media twist things any further and we need the Welsh Government to do more for us.”

Ambulance strikes

Another part of the care sector asking for better pay and conditions is the ambulance service, which is represented by the GMB trade union.

The GMB has also been dealing with Steve Barclay as they ask for a 15% wage increase before strike action on December 21 and 28.

The average wage of an ambulance driver in Wales is around £35,000 a year.

They, much like the other unions, are keen for an agreement sooner rather than later. A spokesperson said: “Our members are pumped up and furious. Ambulances are a forgotten service that have been criminally underfunded over the last 12 years.

“Any other service would have gone on strike years ago. It’s only that ambulance drivers are now having to choose between heating and eating that we must strike.”

With more than 10,000 ambulance drivers across Wales and England set to walk out across two days, Mr Barclay has assured people that life threatening calls will be responded to, as the army prepare to drive ambulances.

Other strikes across Wales

  • Rail (RMT) will strike on December 13, 14, 16 and 17.
  • Driving examiners (DVSA) will strike between January 6 and 10 in 2023.