Talk TV: “What on earth do the strikes have to do with Brexit?”

Published on January 25, 2023

“What on earth do the strikes have to do with Brexit?” 

“What on earth do the strikes have to do with Brexit?” This was the question asked by Kevin O'Sullivan recently on Talk TV. 

Quite a lot, actually.  

Nowhere else in Europe are we seeing industrial action on such a scale. The UK has not seen industrial action like this since the winter of discontent in 1978-79. 

When it comes to industrial action in the UK, the closest we saw to current strike levels was in 2011 when we lost 1.39m working days (ONS). In 2022, by October we had already lost 1.617 million working days.   

Recent data published by the UK in a Changing Europe and Centre for European Reform thinktanks revealed that in September 2022, the UK economy lost 330,000 workers because of Brexit. 

The UK has 58,000 fewer nurses than if the numbers arriving before Brexit had continued.   

Brexit-induced migratory hurdles and poor wages have made Britain an unattractive destination for Europe’s nurses. The number of EU and EFTA (European Free Trade Association) nurses in the UK has decreased by 28% from 38,992 in September 2016 to 28,007 in September 2021, forcing the NHS to recruit from ‘red list’ countries to meet staff shortages, a report from Nuffield Trust suggests. 

It is no coincidence then that NHS staff, postal workers and bus drivers are feeling the pressure, they have lost hundreds of their colleagues to Brexit.  

Take bus drivers, we are in need of them across the country, with shortages increasing since Brexit. Many operators note they have numerous EU drivers who used to work for them, sometimes seasonally, who would like to continue to do so but are unable to because bus driving is not included in the Skilled Worker Visa list and bus drivers are not considered a “Shortage Occupation” by the UK Government. 

It also doesn’t help that remaining bus drivers are being asked to change careers and become HGV drivers to fill the gap in drivers since Brexit. HGV drivers get paid on average £40,000 more annually than bus drivers (North East Bylines). So, it is no surprise that bus drivers are striking on the grounds of pay and staff shortages. 

Clearly, the recent strikes are a symptom of post-Brexit politics, where wages in the UK are stagnating, prices are soaring, and we are short of labour. 

Brexit is a key factor in the ongoing strikes, but this is not being talked about. Our government does not want to acknowledge the impact that losing thousands of vital EU workers has had on our public services. 

Brexit has ravaged the UK economy, an economy completely dependent on EU workers, and this is making the cost-of-living crisis far worse than it should have been. 

Instead of talking honestly about the effects of Brexit on the UK economy and the labour market, they continue to peddle what the Financial Times is calling the ‘conspiracy of silence’ on Brexit. 

Just as the Brexiteer government seems determined to get rid of EU Laws that protect our standards through the Retained EU Law Bill. The same government seems determined to stop strikes, not through negotiation, but by changing the law. The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill 2023 has now replaced a 2022 Bill limited to ‘transport strikes’, reflecting a shift in ambition.  

According to the UK in a Changing Europe, “While new legislation might seem to offer the Brexiteer government an opportunity to ‘take back control’, the UK’s relationship with Europe continues to pose problems. They have claimed that the United Nations agency, the International Labour Organization (ILO), supports such measures and that they are applied in France, Italy and Spain. 

Whilst the government’s ‘Memorandum on European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)’ asserts that the Bill is compatible with Convention rights, closer examination shows that neither of these claims hold water. Instead, the reality is that the UK is in danger of breaching obligations under the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).” 

Once again, the Brexiteer government does not have a plan for the negative implications caused by Brexit.  

Anna Bird, 

CEO, European Movement UK 

Let us know if you agree. Do you see the link between Brexit and the strikes? 

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