U.K. Postal Workers to Strike Amid High Inflation and Economic Concerns

DISCONTENT: Postal employees rally outside Parliament on Friday after about 115,000 workers walked off the job. The U.K. is bracing for widespread strikes as workers push for bigger pay raises amid high inflation and a gloomy economic outlook.

LONDON—The U.K. is set to face some of the worst strikes in at least a decade, raising fears that a “winter of discontent” will hit the country as workers push for bigger pay raises amid double-digit inflation and a gloomy economic outlook.

Labor Strife Plagues Europe as Inflation Hits Decade Highs

University professors, teachers, railway staff and even security guards at the luxury department store Harrods have held strikes recently.

Nurses for Britain’s state health service are threatening their firstever strike on selected days near Christmas, and ambulance drivers have voted to walk out for the first time in 30 years. Passport-control officials also announced a strike in December at several U.K. airports.

On Friday, about 115,000 staff at the Royal Mail walked off the job, the first of six strike days planned ahead of Christmas that will disrupt postal service across the U.K.

The labor strife underscores the challenge for governments across Europe as inflation hits its highest levels in decades due in part to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which sent energy prices soaring and added to pressure from pandemic supply chain disruptions.

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Governments and companies say much of the inflationary impact should begin easing in coming months, and warn that large pay increases could entrench inflation. Unions argue that workers face a cost-of-living crisis and can’t afford to see their inflation-adjusted wages fall.

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The situation is particularly bad in the U.K., which has Europe’s second-highest rate of inflation after Germany, and is facing a recession that economists expect to last a year or possibly two.

Disposable household income adjusted for inflation is set to fall 7% over the next two fiscal years, the biggest drop in records dating to the 1950s, said the Office for Budget Responsibility, an independent budget watchdog.

U.K. Private Sector Workers See Bigger Pay Gains Than Public Sector

For months, trade unions have been locked in a strongarm contest with employers and the British government as they look to boost wage offers that they say are well below the current 11.1% pace of inflation.

Average pay growth for the U.K. private sector was 6.6% in July to September 2022, compared with 2.2% for the public sector, according to the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics.

Some unions estimate more than a million working days will be lost to strike action this year.

So far, the U.K. government has tried to resist the unions’ calls for wages moving in line with inflation, saying the country’s finances can’t take the strain. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced spending cuts and tax increases as the government looks to begin lowering its debt in coming years.

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