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The General Secretary talking with Irish reps

Bucking the trend: 

Unite is a union that is winning!

Last week saw the Parliament of our Union come together in Brighton. Hundreds of delegates from workplaces throughout our nations were in attendance, including many of you. Important decisions were made at both our Rules and Policy Conferences, particularly the vote to prioritise Shop Stewards within our constitutional structures.


The reason I believe that was so critical is because the workplace must always be our priority. That’s why over the last 20 months I have made focusing on the jobs, pay and conditions of our members, our guiding principle. Every Rep knows that collective bargaining is the tried and tested method of increasing pay and protecting members’ terms and conditions. So it should also come as no surprise that for the first time in Unite’s history we have managed to achieve sustained membership growth. Between December 2019 and April 2023, we have put on over 13,000 net new paying members. 


It can be no coincidence that we have been winning consistently for our members at work. Since I was elected Unite has entered 800 disputes, covering over 130,000 members, and won over 80%. This has delivered in concrete terms. £400 million has been put into the pockets of our members as a direct result of their willingness to take a stand.


There have been some incredible results over the last 20 months, from;

  • Lerwick Port Authority – 34%
  • XPO - 27%
  • JW Suckling – 26%
  • OCS Covent Garden – 22%
  • Imperial Logistics – 21%
  • Hull Stagecoach – 20%


And the list goes on, literally hundreds of disputes settled and won. Not talk, real gains for working people at a time of crisis. 


And where we can we have done deals with employers without the need for a strike, whether that be FTL workers winning 24% or members at Manchester Airport securing a 17% pay deal. This Union has proved that we can consistently deliver deals that benefit our members.


Of course, the headline pay increase is not the whole picture. And there have been many occasions where we have prioritised safeguarding jobs or terms and conditions, rather than pay during negotiations. This is equally important and must not be forgotten.


One of the most pleasing things is that we have managed to support our members on the picket line whilst freezing membership subs and staying in the black as an organisation.  


It is clear that the next two years will see many challenges come to the fore, from automation to the battle for a just transition. And that means that our members will need more of that fighting spirit from their Union.


Thank you for all that you do.


In solidarity,

Sharon Graham

In this issue:

Cost of Living

The rise in the price of goods and services has slowed slightly but outside of the recent spike is still higher than any time since late 2000 at 6.6% 

Chart showing historically high inflation
Photo showing members fighting for better pay


Real wages have dropped by nearly €60 in the last two years and Unite members at Survitec, Kingspan, Mahle and MM Bangor are fighting back and winning


Unemployment is near its lowest rate in the last 15 years which puts workers in a strong bargaining position

Chart showing historically low unemployment
Work, Voice, Pay logo

Bitesized Bargaining

Bitesize Bargaining this month covers our tool for creating new agreements, the Collective Agreement Builder 

Cost of Living

The rise in the price of goods and services has slowed slightly but is still amongst the highest levels this millennium at 6.6%

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows that prices for consumer goods and services in May 2023 increased by 6.6% on average when compared with May 2022. This was slightly down from 7.2% in the 12 months to April 2023. Prices have been rising since April 2021. This is the 20th straight month where the annual increase in the CPI has been at least 5.0%.

Chart showing 6.6% inflation, higher than any time outside the recent spike, than 2000

Consumer Price Index, January 1998 to May 2023, Percentage change over previous 12 months, Source: Central Statistics Office (CSO)


Housing, water, electricity, gas & other fuels, and Food & non-alcoholic beverages have seen the highest price rises

In May 2022 we were seeing high prices rises in housing, water, electricity, gas & other fuels (21%), and Transport (17%) and whilst transport costs are slightly falling a year on, housing, water, electricity, gas & other fuels are still increasing at very high levels (16%) and increases in food and non-alcoholic beverages are in double figures (13%).

Chart showing headline inflation at 6.6%

Consumer Price Index, selected categories from Housing, water, electricity, gas & other fuels, May 2023, Percentage change over previous 12 months

Source: Central Statistics Office (CSO)


The rise in prices is driven by eye-watering increases in the cost of energy

Energy prices have risen by eye-watering amounts in recent times. Whilst the latest figures are not as high as previous months, bills are still increasing by levels that many will struggle to afford. Gas rose by nearly half as much again (47%), electricity rose by over a third (35%) and Solid fuels (such as coal) rose by a quarter (25%). And all this is just in a single year. In addition to these rises in energy prices, mortgages have seen a huge rise of over 44%.

Chart showing gas, mortgage interest, electricity and  solid fuels all up massively over the last 12 months

Consumer Price Index, selected categories from Housing, water, electricity, gas & other fuels, May 2023, Percentage change over previous 12 months, Source: Central Statistics Office (CSO)


All food categories have seen an increase in prices above the overall figure

Yet again each food category saw an increase higher than the headline figure (overall inflation) of 6.6%, with the vast majority seeing double digit increases.

Milk, cheese & eggs, again topped this dispiriting league table (17%) followed by Sugar, jam, honey, chocolate and confectionary (15%).


Whilst the fuel price increases are attributable to a very specific shock, this is not the case with food.


Unite General Secretary, Sharon Graham, commenting on Unite research, said that “Despite the rise in wholesale prices, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda still managed to increase their profits by an astonishing 97% in 2021. At the same time the 8 top UK food manufacturers made profits of £22.9 billion. Profiteering is happening right along the food supply chain and workers are paying the price”.

Many staple food items have gone up  by more than 10% in the last year

Consumer Price Index, Food and non-alcoholic beverages, May 2023, Percentage change over previous 12 months, Source: Central Statistics Office (CSO)


Bargaining Note: Falling inflation does not mean falling prices 

A number of forecasts anticipate inflation to fall in the medium-term but even then it is still expected to be high by historical standards. The average independent forecast for RPI in the fourth quarter of 2023 is currently 6.4% with some forecasters predicting RPI will still be 11%.


Even if inflation falls it does not mean that prices will. It just means that prices may not grow as fast as they have done. Prices for essential items like energy and food are expected to remain especially high. Workers winning wage increases will ensure they do not lose out permanently from the rise in prices. 


The full list of RPI items is included at the end of this issue.

Chart showing the dangers of one-off, as opposed to consolidated, pay rises


Real wages are down by almost €60 per week in the last two years

In less than two years average real wages have dropped by €59 per week, from €982 to €923, putting a major dent in the slow progress we have seen in the last decade.

Chart showing average weekly pay adjusted for inflation

Average weekly pay adjusted for the impact of inflation (figures in 2023 Q1 prices) 2008 Q1 - 2023 Q1, Source: Central Statistics Office (CSO)

The average figure of €923 per week masks the wide variety in pay across different sectors, from €421 per week in accommodation & food service activities up to €1,662 per week in information & communication.

Chart showing average weekly pay by sector

Average weekly pay by sector, Q1 2023, Source: Central Statistics Office (CSO)

On average the average worker saw a 3.4% yearly reduction in real pay. Mining and quarrying (extraction) was the only sector to see a substantial real terms increase.

Chart showing the annual change in real pay by sector between 2022 and 2023

Change in real weekly pay by sector, Quarter 1 2022 versus Quarter 1 2023, Source: Central Statistics Office (CSO)


Disputes update: workers at Survitec, Kingspan, Heathrow, Mahle and GXO are all taking industrial action

Many Unite members have stood-up recently, whether to maintain their pay and terms, to fight inequality or to defend the activists that represent them.


Survitec workers reject insulting offer with 100% vote


Over 160 Unite members at Survitec in Dunmurry started all-out strike action on 1 June after they rejected a wholly inadequate 6% pay offer. Members voted 100% on an 80% turnout for the action. 


The strike is expected to shut down production at the site which manufactures emergency lifeboats and supplies. Demand for the survival technology produced by Survitec has surged post-Covid leaving the company operating at or close to full capacity.


The workforce at Survitec are highly skilled and deserve an inflation-proof pay increase. Bosses cannot expect to enjoy increased profits and dividends without properly rewarding the workers that create this wealth.  


Kingspan Water & Energy workers remain resolute


Unite members at Kingspan Water & Energy Ltd’s Portadown site began all-out strike action on 20 March and have not moved an inch since. The strike is severely impacting production at the factory which employs 200 and which manufactures fuel and water tanks.


The industrial action follows an overwhelming 99% vote for strike action and 65% rejection of an inadequate eve of strike offer from management which fell well short of Unite members’ demands for a cost of living pay increase.

The Portadown workers are also angry that they have been excluded from a £1,000 cost of living payment that was provided to all other Kingspan Water & Energy employees. 


The Kingspan group is hugely profitable. In 2022, the company’s revenue increased by 28% to £7.3 billion translating into a trading profit of £733 million, a figure 10% higher than the previous year. The company rewarded its shareholders with a dividend of £2.89 on every share last year – a jump of over 8%.


Unite Regional Officer for the workforce Neil Moore called on management to make a cost of living pay increase offer to end the strike: “After two years of real terms pay cuts, these workers are not taking it any more. Management needs to respect these workers and return to the table with a genuine cost of living increase. For our part, Unite stands ready to return to negotiations but they need to be based on a significant improved offer from management.”


Heathrow workers fight for their fair share, following the CEO’s 88% pay rise


2,000 security staff at Heathrow Airport are continuing their fight for a decent wage with 31 days of strike action planned across the summer, beginning on Saturday 24 June. For the first time security officers based at Terminal Three will join their colleagues from Terminal Five and campus security on the picket line.


Heathrow Airport Limited provoked the dispute by offering a below-inflation pay increase to an already underpaid workforce, and then by refusing to address the ongoing issues of using third-party labour and direct deployment. 

Unite research has revealed that security officers at Heathrow are being paid £6,000 per year less than their counterparts at other London airports. Since 2017, the average pay for Heathrow employees has fallen by 24% in real terms. The company fired and rehired its entire workforce at the height of Covid in 2020, dramatically cutting the pay of many of its workforce. The declining pay for all Heathrow employees and the abject low pay for its security officers is in stark contrast to that of its chief executive John Holland-Kaye, whose pay has soared from £800,000 to £1.5 million – up 88%.


A survey of security officers undertaken by Unite revealed that more than one in three (35%) were planning to leave their roles. These numbers are only likely to increase with the recent news that the company is expected to make dividend payments worth £1.5 billion to its shareholders over the next five years. Unite will not accept that an employer that trumpets itself as ‘the UK’s premium airport’ cannot afford to pay its workers decent wages. Our members at Heathrow have the union’s full backing to win the fair deal that they need and deserve.


Mahle workers fight for equal treatment and fair pay


Over 120 members based at Mahle Engine Systems in Kilmarnock will be taking 18 days of strike action in June and July. The dispute relates to pay discrepancies at the Kilmarnock plant after management failed to apply an extra increase to the entire workforce, in addition to a 3.4% increase which all workers received from January 2023.


Our members are demanding that the ‘top-up’, which equates to 6.8% on top of the January increase, be applied to all workers across the plant. Unite has also accused Mahle of acting outside the collective bargaining arrangements. In response, Mahle workers are fighting for equal treatment and better jobs, terms and conditions across the entire Kilmarnock plant.


GXO workers strike in defence of a rep sacked on trumped up charges


Unite is not just engaged in disputes with employers over pay and conditions. In recent months we have seen attacks on our elected representatives increase as unscrupulous employers try to undermine effective trade unionism in their workplace. An important example of this trend is taking place at GXO, one of the largest logistics companies in the world. 


HGV drivers, employed by GXO on the contract to supply City Plumbing and PTS outlets, have started indefinite strike action, following the sacking of a Unite rep. The drivers voted for strike action following the dismissal of Unite representative Paul Roberts on “trumped up charges”.


Unite’s GXO drivers based at Lockheed Road depot in Warrington, began their continuous strike action on Monday 22 May. Given the just-in-time nature of distribution contracts, City Plumbing and PTS will swiftly run short of materials. Unite will do absolutely everything in its power to defend our reps and will leave no stone unturned until they are reinstated.


MM Bangor workers amongst those winning inflation-busting pay increases in 2023

Unite members have been at the vanguard of winning inflation-busting pay deals in 2023.


MM Bangor workers won a 13% pay rise in May this year after taking six days of strike action. The MM Bangor workforce are highly skilled packaging operatives but until this deal received little more than the legal minimum wage. Workers fought for an inflation-proofed increase to bring them above the real Living Wage, rejecting the low pay norm at the company.


There have also been large and important wins across Unite’s many other regions and sectors. 


Road haulage workers have achieved some of the largest pay increases in recent months. For example, tanker drivers working for Fuel Transport & Logistics on the Morrisons fuel contract won a 24% pay rise last month, while Imperial Logistics drivers working at BMW Oxford won a pay rise worth more than 13% in April.


In the bus sector, Unite workers at Abellio won an 18% pay increase in February, while at National Express members won a 16.2% increase in March. In late April, drivers and engineers at Arriva Newcastle and Northumberland secured a 12% increase.


In the energy sector, 1,300 Unite members at UK Power Networks secured an 18% pay rise over two years after voting for strike action.

Last month workers at Chessington World of Adventures secured a 13.5% rise and 200 workers at Luton Airport won a pay rise worth more than 28% in January.


In addition to wins on pay, Unite has also secured new recognition agreements, including one for management grades at aerospace manufacturer Airbus, which will bring almost 2,800 workers into collective bargaining arrangements for the first time.


Over the last 18 months 125,000 Unite members have been involved in over 800 disputes, winning 80% of all those resolved, resulting in over £300 million of new money in members' pockets. By standing together and taking decisive industrial action, our members continue to show that it's possible to resist the bosses' attempts to make workers pay the price for the profit-driven cost of living crisis.

Top 10 Unite wins of 2023

Company Headline Result
Menzies (Luton Airport) 28%
JW Suckling 26%
Woolwich Ferries 26%
Morrisons (Fuel Transport & Logistics ) 24%
Lothian Buses 19.6%
GH Luton Airport 19%
Coca Cola 18.1%
UK Power Networks 18%
Serco Hounslow 18%
Abellio 18%


Low employment gives workers a strong bargaining position in companies and sectors that need to hire more staff

Unemployment dropped to 3.8% for May 2023. For nearly a year it has been at these very low levels, which are lower than we have seen in the last 15 years.


Low unemployment may be an indication that workers are in a strong bargaining position. Companies who are attempting to recruit and retain staff need to ensure they are providing pay and conditions that make them attractive to workers.


Monthly unemployment rate, January 2008 to May 2023, Source: Central Statistics Office (CSO) 

Bitesize Bargaining

WVP Tools: Collective Agreement Builder

Our Collective Agreement Builder allows activists to produce a professional, bespoke draft agreement in a matter of minutes. Collective agreements are the foundations on which we build power in the workplace. They can set out the rules for some of the most important aspects of industrial relations such as how much time shop stewards get off work to perform their trade union duties. Collective agreements can also be developed for more specific issues, such as the introduction of new technology, agency workers or home working. 


Big economic and environmental changes are already raising new bargaining issues for trade unions to address. By ensuring that our reps and shop stewards are at the heart of negotiating around these issues, collective agreements give workers the power and agency to set standards in their own workplace. We can’t rely on the word of the boss or fall back on flimsy laws to protect our members: only agreements won and enforced collectively will stand the test of time and events. 


Many of our template agreements are now available to use with the Collective Agreement Builder and can be easily modified to suit the needs of your workplace. You can currently create bespoke agreements from the following templates:

  • Agency Workers Agreement
  • Trade Union Facilities Agreement
  • Home Working Agreement
  • New technology Agreement
  • Apprenticeships Agreement

These templates include model language and clauses that you can include, remove or modify yourself. You can also search agreements covering thousands of workplaces across the UK and Ireland, and upload your negotiated agreements to share with other Unite reps using the Collective Agreements Database. And once there you can add clauses to your scrapbook and then import to the Collective Agreement Builder.


The tool itself is very user friendly. This short video will tell you all you need to know about how to navigate, edit and publish your new collective agreement. If you do have any problems, however, please contact: [email protected]



Work, Voice and Pay now has a large suite of tools for Unite reps


Campaigning in the workplace? We have published tools to help get you started: A Pay Petition Template, a Pay Survey Template, a Poster Template, a Newsletter Template,  and a Surveys Guide.


If you are a Rep negotiating with a company registered in Ireland you can now construct your own bespoke pay claim online in less than 10 minutes using the Pay Claim Generator!


Unite Reps can now construct a bespoke, fully laid-out collective agreement online in a matter of minutes, using the Collective Agreement Builder.

Click on the Work Voice Pay logo to see the rest of our bargaining guides and tools


Inflation table

Here is a full breakdown of CPI items:

Top 10 Unite wins of 2023

Company May 2022 May 2023
All items 7.8% 6.6%
Housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels 20.9% 16.4%
Food and non-alcoholic beverages 4.4% 12.7%
Restaurants and hotels 5.9% 8.6%
Recreation and culture 2.4% 6.4%
Alcoholic beverages and tobacco 7.5% 5.0%
Furnishings, household equipment and routine household maintenance 3.0% 3.8%
Health 0.2% 3.4%
Clothing and footwear 3.8% 2.2%
Miscellaneous goods and services -1.8% 1.9%
Communications 5.1% 0.5%
Transport 16.5% -1.7%
Education -0.8% -6.3%


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