Business

More industrial action beckons as inflation rises faster than expected

Unite union members employed by the Education Authority on strike earlier this month. Picture by Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press.

THE latest squeeze on household income is likely to prompt further industrial action across the north, an economist has warned.

Rapidly rising food and fuel prices sent inflation to another 30-year high during March.

The UK's Office for National Statistics (ONS) said Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation rose 7 per cent in the year to March, up from 6.2 per cent in February.

It was once more the highest point since March 1992, when inflation stood at 7.1 per cent.

The rise was higher than the 6.7 per cent that analysts had expected and was driven by fuel, restaurant and food prices, dealing an added blow to households.

Ulster Bank's chief economist Richard Ramsey said a ‘summer of discontent' beckons as both private and public sector employers struggle to meet pay demands in the face of surging inflation.

Bin collections, school meals and transport were disrupted last month by striking public sector workers in a dispute over pay.

Translink drivers are also planning a week-long strike from April 25 over a pay claim.

Meanwhile in the private sector, workers at Caterpillar's manufacturing sites in Belfast and Larne launched industrial action on Monday over a pay dispute, while staff at Andor Technology in Belfast are poised to ballot for strike action over a similar pay fallout.

Mr Ramsey said from an employer's perspective, labour conditions are the most challenging in decades.

“The timing of some public pay negotiations over the next few months couldn't be worse,” he added.

“Employee expectations and reality of what is affordable for public sector employers will continue to diverge.”

He said pensioners and welfare benefits were raised by just 3.1 per cent this month.

“Most public sector workers will do well to match that annual uplift.

“If all public sector workers were given a pay rise in line with inflation that would necessitate a cut in thousands of jobs to pay for that,” he warned.

“With CPI inflation set to exceed 9 per cent and potentially go into double-digits, a summer of discontent and industrial action beckons.”

The latest ONS data showed steep jumps in restaurant and hotel prices while the cost of many food items rose.

Meanwhile, petrol at 160.2p per litre on average in March and diesel at 170.5p, were both at record high prices.

The price of clothes and shoes rose by 9.7 per cent in the year to March, furniture, household equipment and maintenance jumped 10.4 per cent while food and non-alcoholic beverages were up 5.9 per cent.

The data also show that the price of oils and fats for food increased by 7.2 per cent in March alone, adding to a more than 18 per cent rise in the last year.

Ukraine is the world's main supplier of sunflower oil, and Russia is the second-largest supplier, with global prices taking a hit by the war.

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