Britain’s industrial unrest has been branded the second winter of discontent (although not a patch on the mass walkouts that hit the UK in 1978-79) and is set to peak in the coming days, with rail and postal workers, NHS staff and driving instructors (yes, that one surprised me too) all walking out over pay and conditions.
A ballot among RMT members for the latest pay offer to rail workers closes on Monday with the rail union recommending that members reject the proposed deal. The offer could have been significantly higher but a 10 per cent pay rise over two years was blocked by government ministers, the Financial Times revealed last week. The latest in several 48-hour RMT walkouts planned over the Christmas period will begin on Tuesday.
More than 1mn working days are expected to be lost to strikes in the UK in December, the worst disruption of any month since the tail-end of Margaret Thatcher’s time in office.
Pressure is growing on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s administration to enact anti-strike legislation, and we might hear more about that this week, but successive Tory prime ministers have made similar pledges that have come to nothing. And whatever Sunak does now will be too late for the escalation in industrial action over the Christmas holidays.
Want some better news? On Tuesday, the first of a new generation of European weather satellites will be launched into space from Kourou in French Guiana. Despite what Billy Bragg sang about wishing on space hardware, the €4.3bn Meteosat Third Generation system provides a real leap forward for meteorologists, providing more accurate forecasts, including better warnings of imminent storms.
Three satellites will hover in geostationary orbit 36,000km above the equator over Africa. From there they will provide images of Europe every two and a half minutes, including the first comprehensive observations of lightning from space. In so doing, the system is forecast to save lives that could have been lost in extreme weather.
And then there is the football.
If you hate the Fifa World Cup, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s the last week of the tournament. If you love it, you can relish the crescendo of an extraordinary month for the beautiful game with the remaining four teams playing in the semis on Wednesday ahead of Sunday’s final — read the FT’s coverage for full details.
It is not just strikes that are clustering this week. The markets are focused on a trio of interest rate announcements from the acronym economies: the US, EU and UK. All three are expected to ease off somewhat on the levels of planned rises.
There is also a wealth of data from the US and UK that influences rate-setting committees. The gulf between short and long-term borrowing costs — at its widest level since 1981 — has strengthened expectations among investors that the Fed will stay the course on its monetary policy tightening to tame inflation, despite increased worries about recession.
The last time the UK’s Monetary Policy Committee met, in early November, attention was focused on restoring confidence in the country’s economic management. The Bank of England continues to talk tough, but this time the MPC’s response is expected to be more measured. Expectations are for a 0.5 percentage point rise in the base rate on Thursday, rather than repeating the 0.75 percentage point rise of last month.
The weekends with G7 flash purchasing managers’ index figures. There is also an EU leaders’ summit and Opec publishes its monthly outlook report.
It’s a quiet week for earnings announcements, but one with some notable companies reporting from specific sectors. In retail fashion, there is H&M, which has been talking up its recovery in the Chinese market after a long-running consumer boycott. Expectations are also high for Spain’s Inditex, home to the Zara brand among others. For tech, there is the acquisitive Oracle. And in the outsourcing arena, Capita and Serco are representing.
Read the full week ahead calendar here.