Having emerged from a very challenging two years, I’m sure that many of you had high hopes that 2022 would be much better and that life would return to what we considered to be normal. The impact of the vaccination programme in many countries meant that we could meet, travel, entertain and work without restriction and whilst the impacts of the pandemic were extremely stark, certain changes in working practices and the use of technology would continue to make many people’s everyday lives easier. For me, the fact that democracy has been upheld in the biggest ‘free’ country in the world was also a major step forward.
As we approach the end of 2022, different challenges have emerged, which have had very significant impacts and appear to show little sign of abating in the short-term. At around the point where it was possible to feel that the worst of the pandemic was behind us, Russia invaded Ukraine which has significantly raised tensions between the ‘democratic’ and communist countries, causing huge devastation across vast swathes of Ukraine, resulting in thousands of deaths on both sides, as well as triggering a major supply-side crisis which has helped to fuel significant increases in the rate of inflation which in turn have resulted in interest rate rises.
In the UK, we have experienced a triple whammy due to the impacts of Brexit. Whilst our current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, is still extolling the virtues of the UK leaving the EU, the European Commission predicts the reduction in GDP will be about 2.25% in 2022, which on top of the economic impacts of high inflation and higher interest rates will mean that the UK will suffer more than any major economy in Europe.
Rampant inflation after a long period of near-zero inflation and very low-interest rates has hit everyone, in particular public sector workers, whose employer’s decisions are heavily influenced by the Government. A significant number of these employees are Union members, who have sought double-digit pay increases from employers whose masters are advocating wage restraint as a means of trying to control inflation. This incendiary cocktail has resulted in workers in the rail, postal, airport and health industries staging or announcing strikes in late 2022. Arguably the most significant being 100,000 nurses going on strike in England alone for the first time in their history.
Pat Cullen the leader of the Nurses’ union has accused the health secretary, Steve Barclay, of ‘bullyboy’ tactics, being unwilling to negotiate with her as she is a woman representing a largely female workforce and has also claimed that the government was displaying ‘particularly macho’ behaviour towards the Royal College of Nursing (RCN). Cullen cites a recent meeting being publicised by Barclay’s team, despite it being a private meeting, being made to wait before the meeting and Barclay abruptly exiting the meeting rather than engage in dialogue. It is also worth noting that claims were made about the lack of female representation in Sunak’s cabinet, particularly in the most senior positions.
Much has been written in the past about women being more adept at more collaborative negotiation, which requires effective preparation, a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue and ensuring the delivery of realistic proposals. The latter is moot, as the RCN had asked for a 5% above inflation, however as a means of driving the process forward, they have offered to withdraw the 5% increment if the health secretary abandoned its refusal for meaningful talks.
This is set against a backdrop of huge waiting lists, partly due to a huge shortage of nurses, and a significant level of public sympathy which is a worry for the government.
So, as we look towards 2023, I have to be optimistic that the of plethora strikes amongst our public services (and beyond) are resolved quickly. As I write this, the nurses are threatening to step up strikes unless pay is improved and on a more positive note, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (the 2nd largest union behind the RMT have voted to accept an improved pay deal in a referendum.
A glimmer of good news in a challenging year, where the need to negotiate as a means of resolving conflict is as relevant as ever.
On behalf of everyone at Scotwork UK wishing all our readers the best for the festive season and we look forward to engaging with you in 2023.
CEO – Scotwork UK