Workers at the Bank of England want a fair wage rise, reports Peter Stauber
On Tuesday morning, as bankers, lawyers and insurance brokers rushed from the tube station to their offices, employees of the Bank of England gathered outside their workplace and formed a picket line. It was a historic occasion: For the first time in 50 years, staff of the UK‘s central bank are on strike.
The dispute revolves around a meagre pay offer that was imposed on the bank's lowest-paid employees – among them security, maintenance and parlour staff – without the consent of their trade union, Unite. The pay rise of 1 percent is far below inflation, in effect amounting to a substantial pay cut (Bank of England staff are not categorised as public sector workers, which means that the 1-percent pay cap does not apply). Moreover, the pay rise is not equally distributed among staff: A third of employees didn‘t receive a rise at all, according to Unite. On Monday, talks at Acas broke down. "We tried everything", said Unite Regional Officer Mercedes Sanchez, who organised the protest. "All we wanted was for them to start negotiating and give workers a voice."
The protest was supported by shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who appeared on the picket line. Megan Dobney, Regional Secretary for Sertuc, also expressed her solidarity. She called on Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to act in the interest not only of employees, but also of the wider economy: "He should be setting an example to companies to ensure that the economy is not shrunk through the consistent reduction of workers wages", she said. "There is a role for leadership, Mr Carney."
The fact that Bank of England staff have walked out reflects the growing confidence among trade unionists in Britain, which has led to a number of strikes in recent weeks: hospital workers in East London, BA cabin crew and rail workers on Southern, Arriva Rail North and Merseyside have all called industrial action. One of the protestors at the Bank of England said that he‘d been working there for 30 years, and whereas in the past employees "ran a mile" when he mentioned strike action, that has now has changed: "Any fear of strike action has gone."
Peter Stäuber is a freelance journalist and translator. He writes for English and German language publications and is a member of the NUJ.
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