Employees of Britain’s post and parcel company Royal Mail have begun a new round of strikes in a dispute over pay and working conditions.
It is only the latest in a wave of strikes to have gripped the country, which have been taking place across a number of countries in Europe as workers protest living costs and high energy prices.
The latest round of walkouts by members of the Communications and Workers Union (CWU) over ten days in late November and throughout December is expected to disrupt Black Friday and pre-Christmas deliveries.
Walkouts in the past months have involved 115,000 workers, according to the union, which has warned of a “Christmas meltdown” if Royal Mail refuses to engage with the workers’ demands to resolve the dispute.
“Royal Mail bosses are risking a Christmas meltdown because of their stubborn refusal to treat their employees with respect,” CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said in a press release.
“Postal workers want to get on with serving the communities they belong to, delivering Christmas gifts and tackling the backlog from recent weeks,” he added, “But they know their value, and they will not meekly accept the casualisation of their jobs, the destruction of their conditions and the impoverishment of their families.”
The union says it wants a pay rise that matches the soaring cost of living as inflation stands at 11.1 percent in the United Kingdom.
Royal Mail says it has made a “best and final” pay offer that includes a 9 percent increase over 18 months and other concessions.
Postal staged walkouts on Thursday and Friday last week, and another wave of strikes is planned in the run-up to Christmas - on 9, 11, 14, 15, 23 and 24 December.
Some small business owners have expressed concern at how their profits might be impacted by the strike over Christmas, a key time of the year for many companies as other couriers tend to be more expensive.
"We do feel sympathy for the [Royal Mail workers]. But I would question the union bosses as to whether striking at this time of year... is achieving what they are looking to achieve," Clara Challoner Walker, who runs the Cosy Cottage Soap Company in Malton, Yorkshire told the BBC.
The dispute began this summer, following Royal Mail’s rejection of a demand for a pay rise to match the inflation rate. The CWU also rejects proposed changes to working conditions, including ending some allowances and introduction of compulsory Sunday work.
The company says that fierce competition from courier companies has seen it lose around 1 million pounds a day and that the strikes have added $104m (£100m) to its losses, and has announced plans to cut up to 10,000 jobs.
Mobilisations across other sectors
Workers across other sectors, from taxi drivers to telecommunications employees, have also threatened or undertaken industrial action.
Large sections of Britain's rail network have been repeatedly brought to a standstill over recent months. Tens of thousands of railway workers will stage further strikes before and after Christmas over pay and conditions – which is likely to cause disruption to commuters over the festive period.
Thousands of British nurses will go on strike on December 15 and 20 after the government refused to meet their pay demands, according to the Royal College of Nursing union.
More than 10,000 ambulance workers across England and Wales have voted to strike in a dispute over pay and working conditions, the GMB union said.
Teachers across Scotland have carried out strike action for the first time in almost 40 years after talks on a pay deal broke down.