The News is something that we probably take for granted. For many, it’s the first thing they switch on in the morning, or it’s something you listen to while you drive to work or before you go to bed. But, tomorrow and Saturday (5 and 6 Nov) could be a different story, as the BBC faces a 48-hour strike over pensions, which has been organised by the National Union of Journalists. Star presenters, including Fiona Bruce, are expected to participate in the walkout, which will lead to News Bulletins being hit, Newsnight facing disruption and certain radio programmes being cancelled. The Director General of the BBC made a last minute plea to those participating in the walk-out, as core news services across both TV and radio will suffer, as there simply aren’t sufficient resources to provide the necessary cover.
The strike follows significant changes to the BBC’s final salary pension scheme, in response to a growing pension deficit. The BBC plans to reduce the £1.5bn pension deficit by capping increases in pensionable pay at 1% from next April. Although some negotiations have already taken place, the NUJ claims that the BBC ‘has no appetite for negotiation’. After negotiations, employee contributions were reduced from 7% to 6% and a career average pension scheme would be introduced to replace the final salary pension scheme, which is very lucrative for the worker, but hugely expensive for the firm. Despite these changes, members of the NUJ still believe the proposals are fundamentally ‘unfair’.
This strike is unlikely to be the only disruption faced by the public, as further action is expected to occur throughout the rest of November and there are also concerns that Christmas broadcasts may face interruption. Those NUJ members taking part in the walk-out are expected to experience a significant loss in earnings, without there being any noticeable benefit in the long term. Although some will support the strike action, many will be unimpressed. As the Director General wrote in an email to all BBC staff:
“The public – many of whom are facing difficult employment and economic pressures – will find it very hard to understand why the BBC’s service to them should be impaired in this way”.
- What is the difference between a final salary pension scheme and a career average pension scheme? Which is more beneficial for a) the recipient of the pension and b) the pension provider?
- Is anyone likely to benefit from this 48-hour strike? (Think about who the BBC’s competitors are.)
- The BBC article says that ‘payments will increase automatically each year in line with inflation’. What does this mean? Are increases in payments that are indexed to inflation better than payments being indexed to earnings? Explain your answer.
- Apart from striking against changes to pensions, what are some of the other typical reasons for strike action?
- How effective are strikes likely to be? What are the key determinants of the success or failure of them?
You may ask how on earth bins are related to the post. The simple answer is that these are two things that may not be collected. They say that one wedding brings on another, but it looks like that this also applies to strikes. The Winter of Discontent in 1978-9 saw widespread industrial action, where the country almost came to a stop. Is this really where we are now?
The postal strike has been widely publicised, but it’s not just your post that may not arrive. Bus drivers have been striking against First Bus in Greater Manchester and various other places following pay freezes. British Airways is to face the possibility of strike action over new contracts, working practices and pay freezes after talks broke down. The Spanish company Iberia had to cancel over 400 flights over two days due to protests, and in Leeds, rubbish hadn’t been collected for eight weeks.
So, what’s causing all of this discontent? Are we going to see more and more workers protesting over contracts, hours of work and notably pay?
One key thing about strikes is that they affect everyone, whether it’s walking past piles of bin bags; not receiving birthday cards; getting to work late; cancelling holidays or receiving fines for late payment, and even for not submitting your tax returns. These are all problems that people have been facing, not to mention the loss of income some businesses have seen, especially resulting from the postal strike. With the government looking to reduce public-sector debt by increasing taxes or spending cuts, including public-sector pay freezes and controls on banking bonuses, we could be in for another winter of discontent with further disruptions to come.
- What is the purpose of a strike and how effective are they likely to be? What are the costs?
- One of the reasons for strike action is pay freezes. What happens in an individual labour market when pay is frozen? What happens to the demand and supply of labour? Illustrate your answer with a diagram.
- Some news articles have referred to ‘picket lines’ forming. What are they?
- What is the difference between collective bargaining and individual bargaining? Which is more effective?
- Illustrate on a diagram the effect of a trade union entering an industry. How does it affect equilibrium wages and equilibrium employment? Is there any difference if the trade union faces a monopsonist employer of labour?
- Do you think the strike action is right? Why or why not? What are the things you have considered?
- Discuss whether we are heading towarads another ‘winter of discontent?’ Can it be stopped?
Everybody relies on post, whether it is bills, cards or packages, and everyone is annoyed when something goes missing, which has becoming an increasingly common occurrence. Over the past few weeks, a country already suffering from the economic downturn has also been suffering from a lack of post, as workers throughout the Royal Mail have been striking over pay and job cuts. Postal workers are now to vote on a national strike, although the Communication Workers Union (CWU) has said they will call it off if the Royal Mail agrees to stop all redundancies.
And it’s not just individuals who are suffering. Businesses have also been affected, as packages go missing and costs begin to rise. However, there is good news for one firm, the DX Group. DX Mail is the only independent mail operator in the UK which doesn’t rely on the Royal Mail for any part of its service. If the disputes continue, it could see a significant boost to its sales.
Consider the following articles and think about the effect this strike may have on businesses and the economy and then have a go at the questions.
Postal workers to vote on strike BBC News (17/9/09)
The DX: Keeping Business Mail moving during strike Hellmail (30/8/09)
Mail Privatisation to ‘go ahead’ BBC News (11/6/09)
Threat of strikes underlines TUC warning over spending cuts Times Online (14/9/09)
Postal strikes drive customers to Royal Mail’s rivals Guardian (18/9/09)
Postal workers strike in Swindon BBC News (16/9/09)
Royal Mail denies mail backlog BBC News (11/9/09)
Postal strike over job cutbacks The Herald (Plymouth) (5/9/09)
Managers and unions fail to sort out Royal Mail modernisation Guardian (17/9/09)
- In what ways is a postal strike likely to cost businesses?
- What other options are there for postal workers apart from strikes? Consider the advantages and disadvantages of each.
- How does a trade union affect wages and employment when an industry becomes unionised? What happens if a trade union is facing a monopsonist employer of labour?
- What is this dispute about and what do you think is the best way to resolve it for all concerned?
- Why in pay negotiations is a trade union more effective than each individual asking for higher pay?