Business leaders urge government to contain the ‘heat of discontent’ or look down on more firms

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Business leaders have urged the government to settle the dispute over railway workers’ salaries and working conditions as the strike has sparked a travel chaos that is expected to continue throughout the week.

Pub owners warned a “heat of discontent” would hit the industry and inevitably lead to another wave of closures as businesses begin to recover from a nightmare of two years of lockdowns and restrictions.

Small businesses and the self-employed have been hardest hit across the country, while hospitality businesses are expected to suffer £1bn in damage this week as Britons cancel outings.

Main roads and between train stations were unusually quiet on Tuesday, with retail data company Springboard reporting an 8.5 percent drop in visitors.

In central London, passenger travel fell 27 percent as office workers stayed home to avoid rail and tube strikes.

Industrial action threatens to spread from lawyers to garbage collectors to other sectors as workers demand higher wages to meet rising living costs. New figures show that inflation rose to a new 40-year high in the 12 months to May.

The threat of widespread strikes arises from a host of issues plaguing UK businesses, including skyrocketing energy prices, supply chain problems, acute labor shortages and falling consumer confidence.

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, said the strike was a “disaster” for thousands of shopkeepers who were beginning to rebuild their businesses after two years of temporary lockdown.

Commuters are seen at King’s Cross St Pancras station in London as train services are halted following strikes.

(PA)

“The rail strike, designed to ensure maximum disruption, will affect retail outlets near travel hubs and in city centers throughout the week,” he said. independently,

Retailers are trying to adjust to a new reality with fewer commuters post-pandemic, and there are “real fears” the strike will hurt business in the long-term as it reinforces the home-working trend, Goodacre said. .

“As is often the case with large-scale strikes, little attention is paid to the unintended consequences for people – in this case, self-employed people with no guaranteed income who are already facing difficult times. are in.”

Andy Chamberlain, political director at IPSE, a self-employed lobby group, said the strikes are already having a “severe impact” on the finances of workers unable to work from home.

Many self-employed workers have struggled through the pandemic after being tumbled by job droughts and gaps in government support.

“Unlike employees, self-employed people don’t get paid if they can’t work, so thousands of these workers may not be able to make a week’s earnings,” Chamberlain said.

Pubs, bars and restaurants reported a sharp drop in customers on Tuesday, with industry leaders warning some places were seeing a tenth of normal business and disruptions continued throughout the week.

Adam Meyers, chief executive of Hyades Brewery, said sales at city center venues had fallen and warned the heat from the strikes in various areas would hit pubs across the country.

However, Hyde’s suburban pubs saw an improvement in business this week as people took advantage of the opportunity to work from home, accelerating an already existing trend, Mr Myers said.

Hyades Brewery chief executive Adam Meyers warns the summer strike will result in more pub closures

(Hydes Brewery)

He warned that the heat of the strikes would “deal another blow to an already ailing hospitality industry”.

“This will lead to higher costs and more pressure on consumer spending. There will be fewer winners and more pubs will be closed.”

City Pub Group founder Clive Watson said it was “hardly worth opening some locations near train stations this week”.

Mr Watson, executive chairman of the 42-strong group, said the cancellation of city center venues had done a lot of damage.

“We’ve seen a lot of events get canceled and there’s been really weak bookings in a lot of places,” he said.

“It’s obviously bad in London, but we’ve also seen it in Bristol, Norwich, Exeter and Reading. In general, the majority of bookings are canceled without a rebooking being planned.

“It’s early days but I think we’re expecting a 20-25 percent drop in trade this week.”

The strike “turned an operational headache into a full-blown migraine” for hospitality companies, said Susanna Streeter, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdowne.

“As the transport network catches on, bookings are expected to fall as the lucrative stay-at-home lunchtime rush and revelers cancel reservations fearing they will end up at night. I won’t be able to come home,” Ms. Streeter said.

Shares of pub chain Mitchell & Butler fell 1.4 percent on Tuesday on concerns about slowing consumer spending, while the restaurant group, which owns Wagamama, fell 0.7 percent.

The industry is already struggling with staff shortages, with 35 percent of companies saying this is a problem.

Unions have accused Boris Johnson of pursuing a “race to the bottom” on wages as the Prime Minister set the scene for months of clashes with striking workers.

(PA)

Travel chaos continued as just 60 per cent of rail services were operating as of Wednesday morning after talks resumed after 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) and 13 train operators staged the first three strikes on Network Rail. do.

The union wants a guarantee that there will be no redundancies as rail companies try to cut costs in response to falling passenger numbers. She is also targeting a wage increase above the currently proposed 3 percent, which is well below the 9 percent inflation rate.

Martin McTeague, national president of the Federation of Small Businesses, said the strikes had made life “incredibly stressful” for employees and business owners trying to get to and from work.

“A functioning transport network is essential for the survival of small companies. We call on all parties to address the issues behind the strike.”

Central leaders, railway officials and government ministers appear to have made little progress in negotiating the dispute.

RMT boss Mick Lynch said his priority was avoiding forced layoffs and getting a better wage deal. The RMT argues that rail companies have proposed tariffs that are “broadly” in line with relevant inflation rates, which have come on top of wage freezes in recent years.

Rail operators are also looking to shed thousands of jobs in what the union says is the result of a £4bn cut in funding for Network Rail by the government.

Other controversies concern safety issues, including the planned closure of ticket offices and a 50 percent reduction in rail infrastructure inspections.

Unions accused Boris Johnson of pursuing a “race to the bottom” on wages as the Prime Minister set the scene for months of clashes with striking workers. The Prime Minister has urged workers to show restraint while demanding wage increases.

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