20 December 2022 – Already struggling small businesses now have to add the strikes to their list of things that impact on their business.
The past three years have been tough for many small businesses. The pandemic with its several lockdowns and restrictions has made trading more difficult and increased the costs.
As the UK emerged from the pandemic, inflation started to rise and supply chain issues became a problem globally, making running a business more expensive and more difficult. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, causing already rising fuel prices to soar.
The resulting cost-of-living crisis reduced the spending power of many consumers, reducing the income of many small businesses.
And now, at the most important time of the year for many companies, strikes are causing huge problems for many.
Which Sectors Are Striking?
The cost-of-living crisis has pushed many workers to their limits, resulting in several sectors voting for strike action.
The biggest walkout is staged by rail staff, which had planned strike action on several days in November, December and January.
Various rail unions have balloted their members, meaning rail strikes are affecting most parts of the UK. Rail staff are striking to get an “appropriate” pay rise and improved working conditions and practices.
Stagecoach staff in London and Sunderland will also strike on four days in December, on 23rd, 24th, 26th and 27th, over pay. With the union, Gas Workers and General Labourers Union (GMB), saying their members are having their real-term pay cut, due to high inflation.
Employees of National Highways will stage walkouts in December and January across England over pay, pensions, job security and redundancy terms.
The union, Public and Commerical Servies Union (PCS), is coordinating the strikes to coincide with rail strikes for maximum impact.
Baggage handlers for the company Menzies at Heathrow Airport are planning to walk out on 29 January for 72 hours, if a deal cannot be agreed. A strike on 16 December has been suspended after Menzies agreed to last-minute talks.
UK Border Force staff plan to strike in the last two weeks of December, which could cause disruptions for many travellers.
A long-standing dispute over pay and modernisation plans by Royal Mail has prompted the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to ballot their members for strike action.
The union claims that the plans would include thousands of redundancies and parcel delivery on Sundays but no deliveries of letters on Saturdays. An offer by Royal Mail has been rejected, which means strikes over Christmas will go ahead.
Education And Health
Teachers in Scotland voted for strike action and walked out in November and December over pay and working conditions.
University staff also voted for strikes at 150 universities across the UK. Staff walked out for three days in November and December so far but are threatening more action. The University and College Union says staff walk out over below-inflation pay rises as well as working conditions and terms and pensions.
Nurses have also voted to strike over pay and working conditions, with the Royal College of Nursing saying nursing staff have had a real-term pay cut of 20% since 2010. One strike day in Decmeber has already happened and another is planned for 20 December.
Ambulance staff have also voted for industrial action over pay and walkouts will take place on 21 and 28 December.
Other NHS staff, including midwives and junior doctors, might walk out in the new year, if respective union members vote for industrial action.
Civil Servants And Food Deliveries
Civil servants of the Driver and Vehicle Standars Agency and Rural Payments have also voted to strike, which means that driving examiners and rural payment officers will walk out in December and January over pay and working terms.
Food delivery drivers for Bestfoods, which delivers food to many chain restaurants, will strike over the Christmas period, with exact dates yet to be announced. The union GMB says their members are striking over pay.
Why Industrial Actions Impact Small Businesses
While not all strike actions will affect small businesses, some have a big impact, especially at this time of the year.
The strike action by Royal Mail staff leaves many small business owners in despair. Many small firms rely on the postal service to deliver orders to their customers.
Because of the walkouts, many customers receive their orders late or not at all, which means small businesses have to send replacements or give refunds, which eats into profits.
With some businesses already on the brink of having to close, these disruptions could be disastrous.
So far I’ve been lucky that my customers have been really supportive but sending orders out and having no idea if they’ll arrive puts my business on a knife edge. If I have to do widespread refunds, it will put me under. After an already tough year, these strikes are another nail in the coffin.Ruth Bradford, Owner of The Little Black & White Book Project
Customers also decide to order their Christmas presents with larger companies, such as Amazon, where they can be sure their orders will arrive in time. This means small businesses are losing out on orders they so desperately need.
Rail strikes also negatively affect small businesses because they keep shoppers away from city and town centres. Retailers, pubs and restaurants as well as stallholders at Christmas markets feel the reduction in footfall.
It’s also the time of staff Christmas parties, which might not go ahead if staff members are unable to attend due to strike action. This could hit profits of many businesses in the hospitality sector hard.
Despite all these negative impacts, not every small business owner is against the strikes. Many understand and support the striking workers, and try to find ways to work around them.