Workers are staging unofficial walkouts across the UK as soaring inflation and pay disputes trigger a wave of “wildcat” strikes that threatens to cause major economic disruption.
Thousands of employees at factories around the country joined unofficial picket lines yesterday, with more action expected in the coming days.
Hundreds of contractors at chemicals giant INEOS’s Grangemouth complex in Scotland walked out in an unofficial action, blocking roads in a protest over a pay offer.
Similarly-sized walkouts took place at Humber Refinery in North Lincolnshire, owned by US energy group Phillips 66, and at the Valero refinery in Milford Haven. Further wildcat strikes are planned at sites across Teesside in the coming days, according to local media reports.
It follows similar action by non-unionised Amazon warehouse workers, who walked out last week in a dispute over pay, and train drivers at Avanti West Coast, who have this week brought some services to a halt by refusing shifts.
Wildcat walkouts – which are conducted without union approval – are a new escalation of the strike chaos gripping Britain. Fresh industrial action is being announced most days, including looming walkouts by exam staff, port workers and Royal Mail workers.
Unofficial and official strikes are crippling sections of the economy, threatening to worsen the economic malaise caused by surging inflation.
Wildcat strikes are difficult for businesses, which cannot easily plan for such sudden disruption. They are also risky for employees, who forsake the legal protections they are granted during actions taken as part of collective bargaining.
London mayor Sadiq Khan and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham both waded into disputes on Wednesday, accusing rail operator Avanti West Coast of a “completely unacceptable” decision to slash timetables amid a spat over walkouts.
Avanti suspended ticket sales and cut timetables on Monday, blaming “unofficial strike action” by drivers who refused to work on appointed rest days. Transport secretary Grant Shapps weighed in last month, saying unions were causing disruption by stopping drivers from working on rest days.
Aslef, the union for rail workers – which is planning an official strike this Saturday – has fiercely contested claims its members launched a wildcat strike. It has accused Mr Shapps of lying, saying its workers have no obligation to work overtime.
“The idea that we are party to any unofficial action is palpably absurd,” an Aslef spokesman said.
Mr Khan and Mr Burnham said attempts by Avanti to blame Aslef were “disingenuous”. “Drivers are completely entitled to choose not to work on their rest days,” they wrote.
Picketers at Wednesday’s strikes said the walkouts were part of a dispute with the Engineering Construction Industry Association, the trade and employers association for Britain’s engineering construction industry.
Contractors in the sector are bound by a “bluebook” agreement between unions and business groups that sets the terms of their employment.
Under the agreement, they are set for 2.5pc pay rises this year and next. Workers say this would leave them suffering a nearly 10pc real-terms pay cut given retail price inflation hit 11.7pc in the year to June.
A pamphlet handed out at Grangemouth said: “Today's action is in response to the ECIA's refusal to recognise the impact of the cost of living crisis.”
The ECIA did not respond to a request for comment.
In a statement, INEOS Grangemouth said: “We can confirm that a number of contractors employed by third parties are taking unofficial action at the INEOS Grangemouth site as part of a nationwide protest event.
“Our manufacturing and fuel distribution operations are unaffected.”