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GSK faces strike threat in UK, again, after workers pan pay raise

After skirting industrial action in 2022, GSK faces looming strikes across six of its sites in the United Kingdom next month, with hundreds of workers plotting walkouts in pursuit of better pay.

Represented by Unite, the UK’s biggest labor union, 750 GSK staffers have voted to strike after the company offered a 6% pay raise with a one-off lump sum payment of £1,300, an amount Unite says is “significantly below” the rate of inflation. GSK’s offer to its employees represents a “substantial real terms pay cut” in light of the U.K.’s true inflation rate of 13.5%, Unite said in a press release.

In response, a mix of engineers, process technicians, laboratory analysts, warehouse workers and fire officers are plotting to strike throughout May at GSK’s sites in Barnard Castle, Irvine, Montrose, Ware, Worthing and Ulverston. The proposed strikes would take place at different times in a bid to “maximise the effectiveness of the industrial action,” the labor union said.

GSK, for its part, sees things differently. 

“We recognise that for many of our people, this past year has seen their cost of living rise rapidly and believe the offer we have made to our UK manufacturing colleagues covered by collective bargaining agreements is fair and reasonable,” GSK said in an emailed statement.

The company said it was “disappointed that the Unite union has decided to take industrial action, despite receiving a final offer which includes a 6% increase on base pay, shift pay and allowances, plus a discretionary one-time payment of £1,300 – an overall package equivalent to a 9.7% increase.”

U.K.’s consumer price inflation rates in March fell to 10.1% year-over-year, down from 10.4% in February but slightly above market expectations of 9.8%, Seeking Alpha and others have reported. 

The proposed action by Unite comes as high inflation outstrips wage growth for most British workers, Reuters points out. Strikes among groups like nurses and transport staff have been roiling for months.

But to hear Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham tell it, GSK is an “incredibly wealthy company that can fully afford to pay its workers a fair pay offer.” She described the standing offer as a “classic example” of a company prioritizing profits at the expense of its workers.

According to Unite, GSK charted operating profits of £8.15 billion in 2022, a 26% increase over the prior year.

Meanwhile, this is hardly GSK’s first tangle with Unite. Last April, hundreds of GSK employees represented by the union voted to strike against what Unite called a “derisory” pay raise offer from the company, giving GSK 48 hours to improve its bid.

That strike was ultimately called off after employees accepted an improved pay proposal from the British Big Pharma. At the time, GSK said the updated offer consisted of a 4.5% increase to base salary, which was backdated. Further, the deal included a one-off special award to all GSK employees of one week’s pay, which was worth about 2% of the base salary.

GSK employs about 3,500 workers at its U.K. manufacturing sites, with the 750 Unite staffers representing about 20% of its workforce. If the strikes go through, this will be the first time such action has occurred at any GSK site.