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10 Jun, 2022 16:44

Healthcare workers calling in sick due to fuel prices – union

A UK union has warned the cost of fuel is stopping care workers from going to work
Healthcare workers calling in sick due to fuel prices – union

UK healthcare workers have been calling in sick because they can’t afford the petrol they need to get to work, public services union Unison revealed on Thursday. The possibility of widespread strikes looms in the coming months as the government has refused to increase wages, fearing a wage-price spiral fed by runaway inflation.

We’re actually hearing of people who would rather phone in sick because they don’t have the money to fill up their cars and do their jobs,” Unison General Secretary Christina McAnea told The Guardian, adding that “more and more people are leaving public services, even in local government,” because the pay is not enough to make ends meet. 

We don’t want to bring low-paid workers out on strike. But if there’s no alternative, what else can people do?” she asked, suggesting there is a very real possibility of members walking off the job in the near future as meager pay increases of 2-3% failed to keep pace with galloping inflation rates of 10% or more. “I’m not saying there will be strikes tomorrow, but there’s a lot of anger out there, and people become more desperate.”

Unison members are not alone in contemplating strikes due to financial hardship. The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of a strike last month, with 89% of 40,000 railway workers in favor of a work freeze after two years of no raises and the threat of further cutbacks. Fellow transit unions Aslef and the TSSA are also reportedly considering strikes, an outcome that could potentially paralyze the country.

While PM Boris Johnson insisted on Thursday that the country’s economy would be “steering into the wind” for the time to come, he blamed “global pressures,” including the conflict in Ukraine, rather than government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic that triggered the worst recession the UK had seen since the country began keeping records.

Johnson acknowledged he was loath to increase wages despite demands from public sector unions, lest the move trigger a 1970s-style wage-price spiral, as steadily increasing fuel prices put the cost of a tank of petrol at $124 (£100). Ministers have insisted there is “extremely limited room for any further investment in pay,” arguing “financial restraint” is needed.

McAnea hit back at those claims, arguing “pay restraint is completely inappropriate when we are talking about people in local government.” She pointed out that half of local-level public sector workers make less than $31,000 (£25,000) annually, rendering it “not possible” for care workers with similar salaries to do their jobs with the price of fuel so high.

The price of of petrol in the UK broke records on Wednesday at $2.25 (182.3p) per liter, according to Experian Catalyst, and the surging cost of fuel has led some government ministers to suggest “naming and shaming” retailers jacking up their prices to cash in on soaring global energy prices.