In Brighton, bin lorry drivers backed by the GMB union have vowed to strike for another two weeks over pay, with rubbish piling up in the streets. At a council meeting on Wednesday, Conservative councillor Joe Miller accused the union of holding the city “over a barrel”.
“Ultimately in my view, the GMB are holding a gun to our head,” he said, according to a report in Brighton & Hove News. “They’ve got us over a barrel. It’s blackmail. I’ve never known anything quite like it. We’re not talking small pay rises. These are significant pay rises. Those are the actions of blackmail and terrorism because terrorists do exactly the same, and blackmail is exactly the same.”
Any co-ordinated strike action by lorry drivers across the country would be likely to be the largest since January 1979, when more than 1.7 million workers took action against James Callaghan’s Labour government and eventually won pay increases of up to 20 per cent. Today, only around 15 per cent of the 320,000 HGV workers in the UK are unionised.
A government spokesman said: “It would be reckless for unions to hold Christmas hostage and damage the work being done to restore supply chains at this vital time of year. We have already taken immediate action to increase the supply of HGV drivers, streamline the testing process and improve working conditions.
“We are pleased employers are working towards long-term solutions through improved testing and hiring, with better pay and working conditions, and will continue to support them to do so.”
Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak insisted there will be a “good amount of Christmas presents available” this year despite supply chain problems. The Chancellor’s comments came after meeting with finance ministers from the G7 group of leading world economies to talk about the situation, with the politicians agreeing to work more closely to solve the crisis.
Speaking to the BBC in Washington DC, he said: “We’re doing absolutely everything we can to mitigate some of these challenges. They are global in nature so we can’t fix every single problem, but I feel confident there will be good provision of goods for everybody. I’m confident there will be a good amount of Christmas presents available for everyone to buy.”
Retailers have expressed fears that ongoing supply chain problems will result in higher prices and empty shelves into December, but the chief executive of the UK Major Ports Group said chains were “robust” and there was “no need to panic”.