A composite image displaying the logos of the following unions: RMT, ASLEF, PCS, GMB, UNISON, Unite, RCN, NASUWT, BMA, NEU, FBU.

As one year ends, another begins. But the struggles of 2022 haven’t gone away, and January 2023 continues to see industrial action affecting Greater Manchester. Here’s a rundown of this month's strikes and ballots, and the reasons that workers are going on strike.

Railway strikes 3 – 7 January

Nationwide industrial action by the RMT and ASLEF unions affected rail services for most of the first week back to work in January.

RMT strikes on Tuesday 3 January, Wednesday 4 January, Friday 6 January and Saturday 7 January, have caused severe reductions to train services. 

Thursday 5 January was an ASLEF strike day. ASLEF is the train drivers’ union, although some train drivers are members of the RMT. The RMT, however, represents railway workers of all grades and different roles – you might have heard or read popular media reports criticising RMT strikes in relation to train drivers’ pay, but this is a meaningless comparison.

Thursday was the first time ASLEF has carried out industrial action since 26 November. ASLEF held five one-day strikes in total during 2022.

What do the railway workers want?

The RMT wants a negotiated settlement on pay and conditions, and has repeatedly complained that the government is preventing railway employers from meeting with union leaders to discuss such an agreement.

But as The Meteor reported last week, and in October,  the union is also fighting to keep guards on trains, to keep ticket offices open, and to prevent cuts to maintenance staff and schedules. The RMT argues this is about passenger safety, as well as raising pay to mitigate the effects of inflation.

ASLEF is asking for an increase in train drivers’ pay to keep up with inflation, stating that drivers have not had a pay increase in three years. ASLEF also highlights the colossal amounts of money being paid to CEOs and shareholders while workers – who generate the profits – suffer a pay freeze.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), an industry organisation that represents train operating companies, made an offer of a 4% pay increase, with no compulsory redundancies before 31 March 2024, to ASLEF on 7 January, but the union has not yet commented on the offer.

Civil service strikes 3 – 4 January

National Highways traffic officers in the PCS union held a walkout on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. The strike affected all of England, and the workers involved are based on the roads and in control centres.

On the same days, court workers were on strike at Bolton, Manchester, Tameside and Wigan & Leigh Magistrates’ Courts.

What do civil servants want?

Like other members of the PCS union, traffic officers are demanding a 10% pay rise (with a £15/hour minimum), pensions justice, job security and no cuts to redundancy terms.

Additionally, courtroom workers are in a dispute with their employer, HMCTS, over the introduction of Common Platform, a digital case management system beset by technical problems. Users of the software say this has led to failures of the justice system and work stress.

Ambulance workers strikes 11 and 23 January

Paramedics, emergency care assistants, call handlers and other staff in the GMB union will go on strike on Wednesday 11 January. This is in place of the postponed strike originally scheduled for 28 December. Ambulance workers in UNISON will also strike on 11 January, plus an additional day on Monday 23 January. Unite ambulance workers will also join the strike on 23 January.

Even though paramedics are striking, they will still leave picket lines and attend category 1 and 2 calls – these are the most serious emergencies and include things like cardiac or respiratory arrest, strokes and heart attacks.

What do the ambulance workers want?

“To begin pay talks immediately to boost wages, retain experienced staff and improve patient care,” says UNISON head of health, Sara Gorton. The current situation with ambulances queueing outside A&Es, and patients waiting hours, and even days, for ambulances to reach them, is unsustainable, and it’s due to government underinvestment in the NHS.

Ambulance teams want a fair pay rise in recognition of their vital work, but they also want to be able to serve the public properly. It’s as much about investment in the health service as it is about investment in themselves.

Nurses strike 18 – 19 January

The following Greater Manchester NHS trusts are affected:

  • Tameside and Glossop Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Christie NHS Foundation Trust
  • Wrightington Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust

Plus these national NHS employers:

  • NHS Resolution
  • NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT)

What do the nurses want?

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is calling for “fair pay and improved patient safety”. There is a retention and recruitment crisis in the NHS, with UNISON claiming that “1 in 2 NHS workers are thinking of leaving their current job and pay is the most common reason”. There are almost 47,000 unfilled nursing vacancies, compared to just under 39,000 at the start of 2022 – this has an impact on patient care and safety.

Nurses’ pay has fallen in real terms by 10% since 2010/11, and so the RCN has asked for a pay rise 5% above inflation, which works out at about 19%. This has been rejected by the government, but talks on Friday 6 January indicate the RCN may be willing to call off the strike if the government will give them a 10% pay increase. This would still leave average nurses’ pay lower than the 2010/11 equivalent.

Private sector strikes

Unite members at the Arrow XL warehouse in Wigan are continuing their strike which began in October 2022, and could potentially last the whole month or even longer. Initially workers held walkouts on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; this has progressed to a continuous strike since 9 December.

The logistics workers want to be paid a living wage, with many workers on the minimum wage or slightly above that. They cite the company’s high profits and the CEO’s 84% pay rise in contrast to their paltry pay packets.

Upcoming Ballots

The teachers’ union NASUWT school staff ballot ends on 9 January. Members are voting on whether to strike to demand a 12% real-terms pay increase. Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary said: “a typical classroom teacher is today more than £50,000 worse off than they would have been had their pay kept pace with inflation over the last decade”. Teaching is another profession suffering a retention and recruitment crisis.

Also on 9 January, the junior doctors strike ballot opens. In common with nurses and ambulance workers, junior doctors are affected by a pay squeeze, and working conditions that are dangerous for both staff and patients, due to underinvestment and staff shortages. If the ballot is successful, they will hold a 72-hour strike in March this year, which will affect emergency care.

The National Education Union (NEU) school staff ballot ends on 13 January. Union members will be voting over industrial action to secure an above-inflation pay rise. Any strike is likely to happen in the last week of January / first week of February.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) ballot ends on 30 January. Firefighters and control staff will vote on whether to pursue industrial action to obtain a fair pay rise. Previously, FBU members have turned down “derisory” pay offers of 2% and 5% before resorting to strike action. No potential dates have been announced yet, but the FBU has agreed plans to allow firefighters to voluntarily attend major incidents without breaking their strike.

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  • Kacy Preen

    Kacy is co-editor and organiser at The Meteor, and has lived in Manchester for 20+ years. They are interested in local politics and property development. Kacy is a member of the Trans Journalists Association.

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