It appears that, after three days of strike action, talks between the petrol tanker drivers, members of Unite, and their employers are about to resume.
As always in these situations, the employers have exagerated what was on the table. Drivers work a basic 45 hour week and their take home earnings have not increased in over ten years. The offer would move the drivers from £32,000 to £36,000. The employers, however, claim their offer is worth £5,500 more.
I know who I believe. Every time we get a pay offer in the NHS, the Government tries to pretend it is worth more by including increments. The fact that 25% of NHS workers are already at the top of their scale and that the increments are already contracted for does not stop them.
What has been great about the tanker drivers’ dispute is the amount of support they seem to have been getting. Car drivers have been reported to be honking supportatively as they pass the picket lines at the terminals. There has not been an effective press witch-hunt. Most people are aware that prices are spiraling and have sympathy for the drivers. Even the threat of petrol shortages has not driven people to the employers’ side.
The Government has been limited to bland statements: “Although the strike has inconvenienced motorists, they have shown commendable common sense and restraint which has minimised its harmful impacts.” No statements about “threats to the national interest.”
I think there is a lesson for us here for us working in the NHS. The Government is weak and public opinion would be on our side. There are no barriers to us fighting for a decent pay offer.
We cannot afford not to. The CBI has just announced that it expects the CPI (that’s the Government’s preferred inflation index, because it is lower) will be increasing at 3.8% in the next four months. That doesn’t make 2.75% look very good.