Unite boss warns tens of thousands could strike over pay

·3 min read

The general secretary of the UK's biggest private sector union has warned of a 'summer of discontent' over pay.

Sharon Graham said there could be hundreds of disputes involving tens of thousands of people if workers are made to "pay the price for inflation".

She said employers making a profit from workers should pay them a "proper fair wage".

Calls to limit pay rises to try to counter inflation were "abhorrent", she added.

Ms Graham, who recently took over Unite, said ordinary workers have already "had a spring, summer, autumn and winter of discontent for years".

"Any employer who can pay, who has made profit out of workers, has to pay a proper fair wage to those workers," she said.

But business group the CBI said that firms were helping employees and consumers where they could.

A CBI spokesperson said: "With living costs at the highest level in decades, workers are understandably concerned about how they're going to cope with rising prices. Businesses too are being hit by soaring input costs.

"Wherever they can, firms are stepping-up to help by absorbing costs to keep prices down for consumers, as well as supporting their employees to cope with the cost-of-living spike."

Pay demands

Speaking to the BBC in her first broadcast interview, Mrs Graham said that calls from the government and the Bank of England that workers should not ask for high wage rises were "totally wrong" and "abhorrent".

Tens of thousands of members of her union were involved in disputes up and down the country, with many double digit pay rises won, for bus drivers, bin collectors, and factory workers, including in one case a rise of 23%, she said.

She said it was "not militant" to ask for pay rises matching or exceeding the rate that prices rise - inflation is currently running at more than 9%.

Last month Treasury minister Simon Clarke warned employees not to expect their wages to rise along with the soaring rate of inflation, saying wage rises help push up the cost of living.

His comments echoed those made earlier this year by Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey, who warned workers to avoid asking for big pay rises.

She denied that there was a risk of a "Seventies-style" spiral of wages and prices which would prolong the period of very high inflation, instead blaming a rise in profits at big companies.

Ms Graham said that employers "slashing the pay" of those who worked through the pandemic was "abhorrent".

"I'm just not going to allow that to happen. And I don't think we should apologise for it," she said.

While the law now makes it more difficult for unions to take industrial action, demanding postal ballots that meet strict thresholds, Unite has changed its tactics, winning hundreds of strike mandates at a more local level.

Ms Graham said in some industries, workers' bargaining position was so strong that she anticipated reopening some final salary pension schemes, most of which have been closed of in recent years.