'A crisis not of our making'

As inflation soars to 7.8 per cent, Unite vows to keep fighting ‘brutal’ cost of living crisis with pay rise demands

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Unite members will continue to fight for substantial pay increases to protect their already squeezed living standards as inflation continues to soar, according to the latest figures published today (February 16).  

New data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that the RPI rate of inflation, a measure that includes housing costs, rose to an astronomical 7.8 per cent in the year to January, up from 7.5 per cent the month before.

The CPI measure of inflation, which excludes housing costs, now stands at 5.5 per cent – a 30-year high. The ONS said the latest data shows that the UK is on track to see CPI inflation exceed 7 per cent by the spring.

The latest inflation figures come as a further blow to households across the UK, who earlier this month were hit by the announcement of a record-breaking 54 per cent increase in the energy price cap from April. This is estimated to send energy bills soaring to nearly £700 a year for 22m people, with those on pre-payment meters expected to pay even more.

A planned rise in National Insurance from April, coupled with rising inflation and higher bills, will only add to the squeeze. A recent analysis by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) found that destitution – defined as inability to pay for basic necessities – could rise by 30 per cent in the spring if the National Insurance rise goes ahead.

As inflation continues to skyrocket, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham reiterated the union’s position that workers cannot be made to pay for the cost of living crisis – and that Unite will continue to fight for pay increases for its members.

Commenting, she said, “Soaring inflation is not the fault of workers.  This is yet another crisis not of their making so why should workers be made to pay for it?

“It’s a national disgrace that some workers in this country have to choose between heating and eating while profits rain down in boardrooms,” she added. “Unite will continue to demand significant pay increases to combat this brutal cost of living crisis because we must restore some fairness to working life in the UK.”

Earlier this month, Graham slammed Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey who called on workers to not ask for significant pay rises this year to avoid a so-called wage-price spiral. His comments come at a time when many companies are seeing record profits, like energy company Shell, which in February posted its highest quarterly profits in eight years. The company’s overall profits for 2021 rose to $19.3bn compared with $4.85bn the previous year.

Meanwhile, British bankers are set to collect the largest bonuses since the financial crisis in 2008, with London’s biggest banks, including HSBC, Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and NatWest, expected to pay more than £4bn in bonuses after they report their annual results in the coming weeks. Profits for the ‘big four’ banks are estimated to surpass £34bn – the greatest level of profits since just before the financial crisis.

But as the already highly well-paid are living it large like never before, ordinary families are struggling more than ever. At a People’s Assembly demonstration in Manchester last weekend (February 12), where hundreds gathered to protest the rising cost of living, UniteLive spoke to Unite members who’ve been hit hard.

Unite rep Andy Aspinall, who alongside his colleagues at pallet makers Chep UK, is now taking strike action over pay, said they desperately needed a pay rise now after years of wage stagnation.

“There’s no two ways about it – you cannot avoid the cost of living increases now,” he explained. “Everything has gone up – gas bills, electricity bills, household items, food – the lot. And to top it all off we’re expecting an increase in National Insurance in April. It’s having a massive impact on our members.”

Unite branch secretary and First Manchester bus worker Sohail Khan told UniteLive that the pay rise he and his colleagues secured last week after strike action – an 8.9 per cent increase – was absolutely necessary.

“More and more of our members have been getting into debt – they’ve been turning to loans and credit cards just because they can’t cope,” he said. “They’re scared to even turn on the telly or open a newspaper because they’re afraid of yet more announcements that will erode their standard of living, like the National Insurance hike, and the energy price cap increase.”

Khan and First Manchester bus drivers are among the many Unite members who’ve won significant increases in pay as a result of either disputes or negotiations in recent months.

Last week, Unite secured a multi-year pay deal worth 26 per cent for 3,500 workers based at BMW’s Mini production plant in Cowley, Oxford. Also last week, strikes at B&Q’s national distribution centre in Worksop came to an end after Wincanton workers accepted a pay deal worth 10.75 per cent for 450 employees.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham vowed Unite would continue to seek pay rises by any means necessary to help members amid the rising cost of living.

 “Where employers can pay, they should pay,” she said. “We are fed up of rich men telling workers they have to pay for boardroom greed and colossal market failure.

“Whether it’s workers at BMW Mini where Unite negotiated a 26 per cent pay deal over three years, or at First Manchester where bus drivers got an increase worth 8.9 per cent following strike action, Unite is unashamedly committed to defending its members’ living standards,” Graham added. “We make no apology whatsoever for fighting for workers’ jobs, pay and conditions.”

By Hajera Blagg

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