Top 5 big wins of 2023 for Unite the Union

From huge pay rises to long strikes, some trade union highlights this year

Despite fighting against a government more intent on curbing workers’ right to strike than solving pay disputes and in the context of hostile media coverage, unions have been quietly (and loudly) securing big wins for workers.

Often facing union-busting tactics and intimidating employers, workers continue to show unity and persistence to assert their right to better pay and conditions. Here are a few stand out wins this year from the UK’s second biggest union Unite.

Abellio bus drivers

Taking strike action throughout the coldest winter months this year, I met Abellio drivers standing in the early hours around a fire outside a bus depot, as they remained determined during a long and bitter dispute.

With strong picket lines, their resilience paid off when, after taking 20 strike days, they secured an 18% pay rise. The final agreement also addressed schedule and workload issues which were equally important, helping to bring them more in line with the pay and conditions of drivers at other companies. Their win showed the strength of worker unity.

St Mungo’s staff

Another long-running bout of strikes took place when charity workers at St Mungos went up against management to demand an end to their wage freeze. Strikes went on for three months, with indefinite industrial action putting pressure on those up the pay rungs, who had benefited from wage rises.

They eventually secured a pay increase worth over 10% or £3,125 in cash terms, and shone a light on the “corporatisation of the charity sector” as those providing frontline services to tackle homelessness were themselves struggling with poverty pay, as senior management enjoyed six-figure salaries.

Refuse workers

Refuse workers have taken a stand this year across the country, demanding better pay and conditions from the local authorities.

Members of Unite working in Tower Hamlets secured a one-off £750 payment and all agency workers were brought in-house on full council terms and conditions. It followed strike action that saw rubbish pile high in the borough of London, drawing widespread attention and forcing the council to reach an agreement.

This was heralded as a ‘model for successful trade unionism’ with refuse workers at different unions up and down the country fighting against outsourcing and low pay. Unite said 23 local authorities have voted for strike action throughout the autumn, as British refuse workers demand their work be valued.

Tank drivers

Coming in runner-up for biggest pay rise of 2023, tank drivers based in Grangemouth with JW Suckling Transport secured themselves a pay deal worth a fantastic 26%, over £11,000 per year.

Then in May, tank drivers for Morrison’s got an impressive 24% pay increase. Made up of a 13.5% rise for 2022 and 10.5% rise for 2023, the deal guaranteed the drivers, employed by Fuel Transport & Logistics, salaries will rise to £65,000 next year.

It was heralded an ‘excellent result’ by Sharon Graham who encouraged other workers in the sector to join the union to improve their wages too.

Luton Airport staff

Across airports in the UK this year workers were gaining big through pay deals. But it was airport baggage handlers and check-in staff at Luton airport who managed to secure Unite’s overall largest pay rise of the year, with a huge 28% increase.

Over 200 Menzies staff secured the impressive deal without the need for industrial action during their annual pay negotiations. Sharon Graham said it was only possible, “because they stood together in a union”.

Hannah Davenport is news reporter at Left Foot Forward, focusing on trade unions and environmental issues

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