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Junior Doctor Strikes Begin, London Underground Strikes are Cancelled Last Minute

12 Jan 2024

What is Happening?

The beginning of January has seen a renewal of strikes by the British Medical Association (BMA) on behalf of Junior Doctors, while expected strikes by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) on behalf of several London Underground departments have been cancelled at the last minute following “positive discussions.” 

Junior Doctors, who began their seven-day strike on 6 January, seek to achieve a full pay restoration (+36%) in light of a real-terms wage decline of over a quarter (-26%) since 2008/9, a “mechanism” to prevent “future declines against the cost of living and inflation,” as well as a reform of the Doctors’ and Dentists’ Review Body (DDRB). The BMA announced January’s strikes on 5 December, claiming that the government was “not prepared to address” the drop in wages following an “unevenly spread” additional offer of a 3% pay rise on top of an agreed 8.8% wage increase in April 2023. 

In comparison, London Underground strikes had been expected after RMT called for “unconditional talks” with London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) after a rejecting a 5% pay rise, citing TfL’s creation of a £13m bonus pool for senior managers, as well as TfL’s commissioner receiving an 11% pay rise in 2023. Various London Underground departmental strikes were set to take place from 5 to 11 January – including signalling, network control, and engineering.

What Is In It For You?

For our readers across the UK, BMA strikes may be a cause for concern – carrying expectations to cause severe disruption to the British public. According to The Times, since the beginning of pay disputes between the UK Government and junior doctors, approximately 940,000 operations and appointments have been cancelled. In addition, over 200,000 further cancellations are expected during January’s walkouts. 

In contrast, readers in London may be relieved by the cancellation of Tube strikes. According to modelling from investment bank Panmure Gordon, Tube strikes are believed to cost the UK economy £90m a day. TfL data from November 2023 revealed midweek London Underground ridership to “regularly” reach above 3.7m – with London’s 402km and 272 station transport system claiming to reach up to 5m passenger journeys a day. 

Despite the cancellation of RMT strikes, readers may continue to express twofold concern surrounding both the real-time decrease in wages, exacerbated by last year’s rise in inflation and cost of living crisis, as well as the long-term impact of industrial action upon major institutions of the British state. 

Both factors reaffirm the continuation of current social and political instability in the UK as the union likely enters an election year, and readers from the UK may be influenced by the government’s handling of continued strikes when casting their votes.

What Happens Next?

The latest balloted six-month strike mandate for the BMA junior doctors expires on 29 February, while the RMT’s strike mandate for the London Underground expires on 9 May. Although discussions between RMT and TfL are now expected to restart, there is currently no timeline for negotiations between the Department of Health and the BMA to begin once again.

Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has commented that she would restart talks with the BMA “in 20 minutes” if the junior doctor strikes were cancelled, while also claiming that the NHS “cannot be switched on and off on whim.” Glynn Barton, TfL’s Chief Operating Officer, has also stated that the 5% pay rise offer is “the most we can afford while assuring that we can operate safely, reliably and sustainably.” There are no further planned strikes so far for both junior doctors in England past 12 January.

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