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More than five million working days lost since current period of strikes began

The number of working days lost since the current period of strike action began has passed five million, new figures show.

Some 5.05 million days are estimated to have been lost in labour disputes in the UK from June 2022 to December 2023.

This is the highest total for any 19-month period for more than 30 years since 5.34 million days were lost from July 1989 to January 1991.

Data for the strikes in January 2024 by junior doctors has yet to be compiled, while more recent strikes by train drivers belonging to the Aslef union, plus further action planned by junior doctors later in February, will push the cumulative total even higher.

The figures have been published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and include provisional numbers for December 2023.

The present spell of industrial action kicked off in June 2022 when members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) staged their first stoppage in a dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

ECONOMY Unemployment
(PA Graphics)

It was soon followed by a sequence of high-profile strikes ranging from barristers, civil servants and university lecturers to postal workers, driving examiners, nurses and ambulance staff.

While many disputes have now been settled, a handful remain unresolved including those involving junior doctors and some train drivers.

December 2022 saw the most working days lost in a single month during the current period of strike action, at 830,000.

This is the highest number for a single month since November 2011, when 997,000 were lost.

It is also the second monthly highest total since July 1989, when 2.42 million were lost.

The number of working days lost is considered to be a better indicator of the impact of labour disputes than the number of recorded stoppages, because of difficulties in consistently defining a stoppage over time, the ONS said.

Nearly half (45%) of the working days lost from June 2022 to December 2023 where data is available were in transport, storage and communication industries, according to analysis by the PA news agency.

This reflects the frequency of rail strikes, together with recurring disputes involving Border Force staff and driving instructors.

Nearly a quarter (24%) were to do with education, 19% health and social work and 7% public administration.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Slightly more days have been lost in the public sector (2.67 million) than the private sector (2.38 million), though the proportions have varied from month to month.

In December 2022, the month with the highest number of working days lost, 80% were in the private sector, driven mainly by the volume of disputes in the rail and postal industries.

But in March 2023, which saw the second-highest monthly total, 90% of days lost were in the public sector, reflecting a wave of strikes involving civil servants, junior doctors and teachers.

March 2023 also saw the highest number of individual workers involved in disputes, at 306,000, while December 2022 saw around half that figure, at 155,000 workers.

Some 43,000 workers were involved in disputes in December 2023.

Two regions together accounted for nearly a third (31%) of all working days lost from June 2022 to December 2023: London (17% of the total) and north-west England (14%).

There were 858,100 days lost to disputes in London and 710,700 in the North West.

South-east England saw the next highest number, at 611,000 days (12%), followed by Scotland (569,700, 11%).

Northern Ireland recorded the fewest days lost, 178,000, accounting for just 4% of the UK total.