Workers Struggles: Europe, Middle East & Africa

Strike wave continues across UK in run-up to Christmas; French railway conductors continue strikes organised outside the official unions; strikes and protests continue in Iran; port and railroad workers walk out across South Africa

22 December 2022

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Run-up to Christmas sees strike wave continue across UK

Tuesday saw the second 12-hour strike by nurses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Tens of thousands of Royal College of Nursing members took part across England where the threshold turnout of 50 percent was reached in the ballot for industrial action. Nurses, having seen a fall in the real-term wages over several years and chronic staff shortages, oppose the government-imposed pay rise of around four percent for most nurses and want a rise of inflation plus five percent.

On Wednesday, tens of thousands of ambulance workers in the Unite, Unison and GMB unions in England and Wales walked out in opposition to the four percent pay offer. Those taking part included call handlers, emergency care assistants and paramedics. Around 10,000 GMB members will strike again on December 28.

Sections of civil servants, members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, also walked out. Driving examiners working for the government Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency at various centres throughout the country are taking part in ongoing action. This week the areas affected were north west England, Yorkshire and the Humber. The PCS members are holding stoppages over pay, job losses and cuts to redundancy terms.

Other PCS members striking this week are highway workers in London and the southeast, who will walk out from Thursday until Christmas Day (inclusive). Border Force staff at major airports will stop work December 23-26.

Royal Mail workers are set to walk out Friday and Saturday. The Communication Workers Union members are calling for a pay increase and opposing Royal Mail’s plans to cut jobs and change working conditions.

Rail workers in the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union at Network Rail will continue their programme of strikes from Christmas Eve for four days. While train services normally do not operate Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Christmas Eve is usually very busy with people going home for the Christmas holidays.

Additionally, bus workers at Abellio in London will strike Christmas Eve as part of a programme of strikes. This will impact routes in west and south London. The Unite union members are demanding an improved pay offer.

Coffin makers for major funeral care company in Scotland hold further strike over pay

Around 50 coffin makers at Co-operative Funeral Care’s factory in Glasgow, Scotland came out on strike Monday until Friday.

The Unite union members held previous walkouts from the end of October. They voted by a 96 percent majority to reject a pay offer less than half the current RPI inflation rate of 14.2 percent. An improved pay offer from the Co-op was also rejected.

The site supplies coffins to the Co-op funeral business throughout the UK. According to Unite, the dispute is likely to continue into a fourth month. The Co-op spent £1 million buying in coffins from a third party.

UK Rural Payments Agency staff hold further strike over pay

UK workers employed by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) are on strike all this week.

The PCS members held walkouts last week and will be holding stoppages in the first two weeks of the new year. They are responsible for paying grants and subsidies to farmers and landowners.

RPA members voted to strike by a 91 percent majority on a 73 percent turnout. Along with other PCS members, the RPA workers are taking part in the strike of civil servants seeking an improved pay offer and protesting job cuts and proposals to cut redundancy payments.

Further stoppages by workers at Disclosure and Barring Service office in Liverpool, England over pay and conditions

Around 80 UK workers employed by Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS) in Liverpool began a two-week strike on December 12.

The PCS members have already held four weeks of strikes since August. HGS is an Indian-based IT services management company, which provides contact centre and back-office facilities for the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). DBS provides police check information on people wanting to work with children or vulnerable adults.

The workers began their stoppages after rejecting a 3.25 percent pay offer, subsequently raised to 3.5 percent. The owner of HGS is on the Sunday Times Rich List, with a personal wealth of £24.5 billion. HGS directors and top management got a 13 percent pay rise last year.

The strikers are demanding at least the Living Wage Foundation figure of £10.90 an hour, paid sick leave, 27 days’ annual leave allowance, paid breaks and job security. They are due to begin an indefinite overtime ban from December 26.

UK train drivers announce further stoppage

UK train drivers at 15 train operating companies (TOCs) will hold a further stoppage on January 5.

The ASLEF union members are seeking a pay rise to compensate for the escalating cost of living, and not having had a rise since 2019. The strike, which falls between two 48-hour strikes by RMT members on January 3 and 6, will heavily impact rail services in the first week of the New Year.

ASLEF members recently renewed their strike mandate with a 93 percent majority of drivers voting for the action, an increase on the 85 percent majority for the initial stoppages.

Contracted-out UK rail cleaners set to strike over pay and conditions

Around 1,000 UK cleaners working for contractors providing cleaning services for rail companies such as Avanti West Coast, LNER and TransPennine are to walk out Thursday and Friday this week and again on December 31, seeking improved pay and conditions.

The RMT members, who work for contractors Atalian Services, Churchill and Mitie are demanding £15 an hour, company sick pay and improved leave and pension provision. While some of the contracting cleaning companies are making in excess of £100 million in profits, many of their workers are on the minimum wage of £9.50 an hour.

UK rail workers in administrative and management roles announce further strikes over pay and conditions

Hundreds of UK rail workers employed in administrative and management roles announced strikes immediately after Christmas in their campaign for improved pay and against attacks on jobs and conditions.

The TSSA members at CrossCountry will hold a 24-hour walkout on December 26, while those working for Great Western Railways and West Midlands Trains will begin 24-hour strikes on December 28. In addition, TSSA members working for TOCs including Avanti, LNER and TransPennine Express will carry out action short of a strike December 26-29.

Workers at UK Amazon plant vote to strike over pay

Workers at the Amazon fulfilment centre in Coventry, England voted to strike in the new year to demand £15 an hour.

Workers at the site took unofficial strike action in the summer, after Amazon announced it would only increase the basic rate of pay by 50p to £10.50p. A ballot of GMB members resulted in a 98 percent majority on a 63 percent turnout. A previous ballot failed to achieve the 50 percent threshold. The GMB represents less than a quarter of the Coventry Amazon workers.

French railway conductors continue strikes organised outside the official unions

Conductors at the French state railway company SNCF begin a new strike from Friday to Monday, which is predicted to cancel around a third of train services.

Conductors are calling for bonus payments, which supplement their low basic wages, to count towards the calculation of their pension, and denounce poor working conditions.

The strikes were organised by the National Collective of Commercial Train Conductors (CNA), a movement which has distanced itself from the trade unions. Speaking to Ouest France, one co-founder of the CNA said that conductors set up a WhatsApp group to discuss working conditions, and it grew to a Facebook group with 3,500 members among the 7,000 SNCF conductors.

The CNA issued a demand that the unions file the necessary legal paperwork for the strike on their behalf but has not dissolved itself into the unions. An expert from the Higher Institute of Labour told Ouest France that the unions had filed the paperwork because, “It’s a classic technique of the trade unions called ‘capping the movement’. It consists of sticking to a movement which gets out of control, then trying to take control of it. That’s not to say that it [the unions’ taking control] is going to work.”

Workers strike at Air France over contract negotiations, alongside other airline and airport workers

Cabin crew at Air France began a strike on Thursday, called by the SNGAF and UNAC unions, which represent 52 percent of the workforce, Le Figaro reported.

The unions are calling for Air France to negotiate a new collective agreement on pay and working conditions and extend the contract which expired in October until a new agreement is signed.

Air France announced in advance of the strike that it did not plan to cancel any of its flights for Thursday. The strike notice filed by the unions at Air France covers the period December 22 to January 2, and further stoppages can be called in that period.

At the low-cost airline French Bee, cabin crew also began a strike on Thursday, calling for a 12 percent pay rise. Inflation in France is currently 6.2 percent, further eroding workers’ wages after French Bee pushed through a 20 percent pay cut during the pandemic.

Workers at Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne airport will hold a two-day strike over the Christmas weekend, with another 48-hour walkout planned for December 31. The General Confederation of Labour and French Democratic Confederation of Labour denounced the airport management for imposing a pay freeze for 2023, after “the salaries of some have already been cut by 20 to 30 percent” in the past two years, La Montagne reported.

Clermont-Ferrand Auvergne airport is operated by Vinci, a multinational company operating concessions in airports and other infrastructure, whose revenue for 2021 was more than 49 billion euros.

National rail strikes in Portugal over pay

On Friday, workers at Comboios de Portugal and Infraestruturas de Portugal, the state-owned companies respectively responsible for running and maintaining the railways, are set to walk out on a 24-hour strike over pay.

According to Noticias ao Minuto, eight unions called the stoppage to demand a bonus payment to make up for rising prices, and the “end of discrimination between workers.”

The unions also called a ban on overtime and work on holidays and rest days from Friday, and will call a second walkout on December 26.

Doctors continue indefinite strike for maximum patient-staff ratios in Madrid, Spain

In Madrid, Spain, around 5,000 primary care doctors and paediatricians continue an indefinite strike begun November 21, demanding maximum ratios of patients to staff.

Around 400 joined a march in the city centre on Wednesday, denouncing the government of the Community of Madrid. According to Europa Press, slogans at the demonstration included “No more deaths due to precariousness,” and “Today, when looting they call it ‘privatisation’.”

The Community of Madrid proposed some limits to patient numbers, but the strike committee said the proposal was not clear about what would happen when there were more patients than the ratios allow. They suspect the Community may use the excess of patients in the public healthcare system to introduce privatisation.

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