Millions of public sector workers are expected to vote on strike action over pay this autumn in what could be the biggest wave of industrial action since the 1970s.
The relocations may see a shortage of hospitals, fire stations, schools and the transport network, if negotiations on wage increases cannot be resolved.
Unions say wage offers are not keeping pace with the increase the cost of livingbut the government says it has to deal with rising inflation and says raising wages now could cause prices to rise even more.
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In a Sky News special report, Cost of Living: Wage Wars, we look at how a split between government and public employees risks erupting into major strikes similar to those seen in the late 1970s when millions of workers walked out over pay.
Back then, inflation was sky-high just as it is today, and the unions demanded bigger wage increases for their members.
But the Labor government, led by James Callaghan, refused.
During a long and bitterly cold winter, strikes broke out; Train drivers, nurses, lorry drivers – even the gravediggers walked out. Towards the end of 1978 the garbagemen went on strike and the garbage piled high in the streets.
Now, a strike threat from the unions is only increasing the challenges facing whoever wins the contest to replace Boris Johnson in a modern dispute on an old dispute.
It comes at a sensitive time for the economy, with both the Treasury and the Bank of England struggling to contain inflation.
Already this summer, strikes on the railway by members of the trade union The Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) have caused widespread disruption across the country.
In England and Wales, the majority of teachers have been offered a 5% pay rise.
In Scotland the offer was two per cent – both below the rate of inflation.
Teachers’ unions say this represents a significant real cut in pay for most teachers and all school leaders, and that wages have already fallen by 20% in real terms since 2010.
“Enough is enough – we have no money”
Rachel Badzire, a special education teacher from Cheshire, says her £35,000-a-year salary is not rising enough to match the rising cost of living.
The mother-of-two said: “I don’t spend too much. But I find that where I could spend £30 or £40, I now spend £60.
“I can understand that there is no limited purse, there never has been, but we can’t just say that one profession is more valuable than another. A nurse saves lives, but without teachers, where does that basis come from to let people develop and get jobs as nurses.
“I think that more and more people are saying that enough is enough, we have no money.”
But when it comes to going out, Rachel is unsure.
“As a parent myself, students would be disturbed by teachers not being at school. So I think that adds an extra weight to my decision-making process.
“Having said that, if I were elected for strike action, I would be very much inclined to vote for it.”
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“We must be listened to”
In June, firefighters were offered a 2% pay rise, which their union has rejected, describing it as “completely inadequate”.
They say between 2009 and last year, firefighters’ real pay has been cut by 12%, amounting to almost £4,000.
Adam Hooks is a full-time firefighter and earns £32,244 a year.
“When you get to the point where you can’t cover the bills because inflation is so high and you’re not even keeping up with inflation, I feel like something needs to be done.
“I’d like to have enough money to not have to worry about things.”
Deciding whether or not to strike is a difficult decision.
“No firefighter wants to go on strike, and many of us live in our community. We do the job because we want to help people. But we have to be paid fairly for it.
“We need to be listened to. There are a lot of firefighters who are struggling with their wages and just trying to pay the bills, never mind having any kind of luxury or anything like that. They’re just struggling to pay the bills.”
The nurse replaces meals with high-calorie shakes
Nurses like Katie Sutton are resorting to more drastic measures to save money. Katie has started eating high-calorie shakes instead of preparing proper meals.
“It costs about £2 per meal,” she said.
“I’ll usually make a shake and I’ll have 400 calories and that’ll keep me going.
“I already have £250 on my overdraft and the cost of everything is just getting too much. I think a lot of nurses will decide there is no option but to strike.
“I’m not sure who would care for my patients if I took industrial action. It’s something I will consider very hard and if this situation is not resolved and we don’t get the pay rise we so desperately need, then I will strike. .”
Nurse salaries have decreased by 10% in real terms
The Nurses’ Association had asked for wage increases above inflation for its members. In Scotland, an offer of 5% was made in May.
In July, nurses in England and Wales were told they will get a pay rise of at least £1,400, which is around a 4% rise on average for most nurses.
The Royal College of Nursing said this means the value of nurses’ pay has fallen by 10% in real terms since 2012.
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The government says that an increase in public sector wages will lead to an increase in demand for goods and services, and that prices will rise.
But the cost of living is not decreasing either.
New forecasts suggest energy bills could rise to more than £4,200 in April, wiping out the £15 billion support package the government has promised to help struggling families.
How have salaries changed over the years?
Sky News’ Data and Forensics team have taken a look at how salaries have changed over the decade to 2021.
While average wages have increased, many public sector workers are worse off than ten years ago because wages have not increased as much as prices have.
The real salary – the salary adjusted for inflation – is 3.1% lower than in 2012 for primary school teachers and 1.9% lower for secondary school teachers.
Nurses and firefighters appear to be marginally better off than a decade ago, but this chart doesn’t tell the whole story, as the data is only available through 2021.
We have more recent data on how real incomes have changed for the public sector more generally.
As this chart shows, rapid price increases over the past year mean public sector wages are 4.1% lower than 2012 in real terms.
This has widened the gap between the public and private sectors, where the average salary is still 4.3% higher than a decade ago.
Moreover, even the moderate real wage growth for firefighters is poor compared to previous years.
This chart shows how the financial crisis ended decades of steady wage growth. Between 1988 and 1998, real wages increased by more than a fifth.
While in 2022 we are poorer than we were in 2006, as inflation has eroded our purchasing power.
Therefore, even professions that have experienced moderate wage growth see nothing compared to what we saw in the decades before the financial crash, when we were used to continuous large improvements in living standards.