Healthcare workers call in sick because of gas prices — Analysis

UK union warns fuel costs are stopping caregivers from working

UK healthcare workers have been calling in sick because they can’t afford the gasoline they need to get to work, public services union Unison revealed on Thursday. As the government continues to refuse to pay wages increases, the fear of a runaway inflation-fueled wage spiral means that there could be mass strikes.

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 “People are quitting public services and leaving local governments.,” because the pay is not enough to make ends meet. 

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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 don’t have to be the only ones thinking of striking due to financial hardship. The Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union voted “It is overwhelming” 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. Aslef and TSSA, fellow transit unions, are also said to be contemplating strikes. A strike could result in the nation being paralyzed.

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 gas at $124 (£100). Ministers have insisted there is “Very limited opportunity for further investments in pay,” arguing “financial restraint” is needed.

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McAnea hit back at those claims, arguing “Local government employees are not entitled to pay restraint.” 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 gas so high.

The price of a liter 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.

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