Overseas

‘Day Zero’: Gqeberha in South Africa is counting down the days until its water taps run dry

It’s the bumpy road — which runs between tightly packed shanty dwellings and beige public-funded houses — that makes balancing containers filled with 70 liters of water on his return a pain.

“Home feels far when you are pushing 70 kilograms of water in a wheelbarrow,” said the 49-year-old resident from the impoverished South African township of Kwanobuhle.

Now much of the city is counting down to “Day Zero,” the day all taps run dry, when no meaningful amount of water can be extracted. That’s in around two weeks, unless authorities seriously speed up their response.

The wider Eastern Cape region of South Africa suffered a severe multi-year drought between 2015 and 2020, which devastated the local economy, particularly its agricultural sector. It had just a brief reprieve before slipping back into drought in late 2021.

Like so many of the world’s worst natural resource crises, the severe water shortage here is a combination of poor management and warping weather patterns caused by human-made climate change.

Morris Malambile says pushing a wheelbarrow filled with water containers every day is "tiring."

On top of that, thousands of leaks throughout the water system means that a lot of the water that does get piped out of the dams may never actually make it into homes. Poor maintenance, like a failed pump on a main water supply, has only worsened the situation.

That has left Malambile — who lives with his sister and her four children — with no choice but to walk his wheelbarrow through the township every single day for the past three months. Without this daily ritual, he and his family would have no drinking water at all.

“People who don’t live here have no idea what it’s like to wake up in the morning, and the first thing on your mind is water,” Malambile said. His family has enough containers to hold 150 liters of water, but each day he fills around half that while the rest is still in use at home.

“Tomorrow, those ones are empty, and I have to bring them again,” he said. “This is my routine, every day, and it is tiring.”

Counting down to Day Zero

The prospects of meaningful rain to help resupply the reservoirs here is looking bleak, and if things keep going the way they are, around 40% of the wider city of Gqeberha will be left with no running water at all.

The Eastern Cape relies on weather systems known as “cut-off lows.” The slow-moving weather systems can produce rain in excess of 50 millimeters (around 2 inches) in 24 hours, followed by days of persistent wet weather. The problem is, that kind of rain just hasn’t been coming.

The next several months do not paint a promising picture either. In its Seasonal Climate Outlook, the South African Weather Service forecasts below-normal precipitation.

This isn’t a recent trend. For nearly a decade, the catchment areas for Nelson Mandela Bay’s main supply dams have received below average rainfall. Water levels have slowly dwindled to the point where the four dams are sitting at a combined level of less than 12% their normal capacity. According to city officials, less than 2% of the remaining water supply is actually useable.

Fresh in the minds of people here is Cape Town’s 2018 water crisis, which was also triggered by the previous, severe drought as well as management problems. The city’s residents would stand in lines for their individually rationed 50 liters of water each day, in fear of reaching Day Zero. It never actually reached that point, but it came dangerously close. Strict rationing enabled the city to halve its water use and avert the worst.

And with no heavy rain expected to come, Nelson Mandela Bay’s officials are so worried about their own Day Zero, they are asking residents to dramatically reduce their water usage. They simply have no choice, the municipality’s water distribution manager Joseph Tsatsire said.

“While it is difficult to monitor how much every person uses, we hope to bring the message across that it is crucial that everyone reduce consumption to 50 liters per person daily,” he said.

A sign urging residents to restrict their water usage in the suburbs of Gqeberha.
To put that in perspective, the average American uses more than seven times that amount, at 82 gallons (372 liters) a day.

While parts of the city will probably never feel the full impact of a potential Day Zero, various interventions are in the pipeline to assist residents in so-called “red zones” where their taps inevitably run dry.

Earlier this month, the South African national government sent a high-ranking delegation to Nelson Mandela Bay to take charge of the crisis and to implement emergency strategies to stretch the last of the city’s dwindling supply.

Leak detection and repairs were a focus, while plans are being made to extract “dead storage water” from below the supply dams’ current levels. Boreholes were drilled in some locations to extract ground water.

Some of the interventions — including patching up leaks and trucking in water — mean some who had lost their water supplies at home are starting to get a trickle from their taps at night. But it’s not enough and authorities are looking to bigger, longer-term solutions to a problem that is only projected to worsen the more the Earth warms.
Workers constructing a water collection point in the Walmer suburb of Gqeberha.
South Africa is naturally prone to drought, but the kind of multi-year droughts that cause such misery and disruption are becoming more frequent.

A desalination plant — to purify ocean water for public consumption — is being explored, though such projects require months of planning, are expensive and often contribute further to the climate crisis, when they are powered by fossil fuels.

People in Kwanobuhle are feeling anxious about the future, wondering when the crisis will end.

At the communal tap there, 25-year-old Babalwa Manyube fills her own containers with water while her 1-year-old daughter waits in her car.

“Flushing toilets, cooking, cleaning — these are problems we all face when there is no water in the taps,” she said. “But raising a baby and having to worry about water is a whole different story. And when will it end? No one can tell us.”

Adapting at home

In Kwanobuhle, the public housing is for people with little to no income. Unemployment is rife and crime is on a steady rise. The streets are packed with residents hustling for money. Old shipping containers operate as a makeshift barbershops.

Just on the other side of the metro is Kamma Heights, a new leafy suburb situated on a hill with a beautiful, uninterrupted view of the city. It is punctuated by several newly built luxury homes, and residents can often be seen sitting on their balconies, enjoying the last few rays of sunshine before the sun dips behind the horizon.

Some residents in Kamma Heights are wealthy enough to secure a backup supply of water. Rhett Saayman, 46, lets out a sigh of relief every time it rains and he hears water flow into the tanks he has erected around his house over the last couple of years.

His plan to save money on water in the long run has turned out to be an invaluable investment in securing his household’s water supply.

Saayman has a storage capacity of 18,500 liters. The water for general household use, like bathrooms, runs through a 5-micron particle filter and a carbon block filter, while drinking and cooking water goes through a reverse osmosis filter.

Rhett Saayman standing next to one of his several water tanks at his home in Kamma Heights.

“We do still rely on municipal water from time to time when we haven’t had enough rain, but that might be two or three times a year, and normally only for a few days at a time,” he said. “The last time we used municipal water was in February, and since then we’ve had sufficient rain to sustain us.”

He added, “Looking at the way things are heading around the city it’s definitely a relief to know we have clean drinking water and enough to flush our toilets and take a shower. Our investment is paying off.”

Residents in many parts of the bay area are being asked to reduce their consumption so that water can be run through stand pipes — temporary pipes placed in strategic locations so that water can be diverted areas most in need.

This means some of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, like Kama Heights, could see huge drop in their water supplies, and they too will have to line up at communal taps, just as those in Kwanobuhle are doing.

Looking ahead, local weather authorities have painted a worrying picture of the months to come, with some warning that the problem had been left to fester for so long, reversing it may be impossible.

“We have been warning the city officials about this for years,” said Garth Sampson, spokesperson for the South African Weather Service in Nelson Mandela Bay. “Whether you want to blame politicians and officials for mismanagement, or the public for not conserving water, it does not matter anymore. Pointing fingers will help no one. The bottom line is we are in a crisis and there is very little we can do anymore.”

Water drips out of a tap at a water collection point in the Walmer suburb of Gqeberha, South Africa. It is one of many collection areas set up in the city.

According to Sampson, the catchment areas supplying Nelson Mandela Bay need about 50 millimeters of rain in a 24-hour period for there to be any significant impact on the dam levels.

“Looking at the statistics over the last several years, our best chance of seeing 50-millimiter events will probably be in August. If we don’t see any significant rainfall by September, then our next best chance is only around March next year, which is concerning,” he said.

“The only way this water crisis is coming to an end it with a flood. But fortunately, or unfortunately — depending on who you ask — there are no forecasts suggesting rain of that magnitude anytime soon.”

‘Day Zero’: Gqeberha in South Africa is counting down the days until its water taps run dry

It’s the bumpy road — which runs between tightly packed shanty dwellings and beige public-funded houses — that makes balancing containers filled with 70 liters of water on his return a pain.

“Home feels far when you are pushing 70 kilograms of water in a wheelbarrow,” said the 49-year-old resident from the impoverished South African township of Kwanobuhle.

Now much of the city is counting down to “Day Zero,” the day all taps run dry, when no meaningful amount of water can be extracted. That’s in around two weeks, unless authorities seriously speed up their response.

The wider Eastern Cape region of South Africa suffered a severe multi-year drought between 2015 and 2020, which devastated the local economy, particularly its agricultural sector. It had just a brief reprieve before slipping back into drought in late 2021.

Like so many of the world’s worst natural resource crises, the severe water shortage here is a combination of poor management and warping weather patterns caused by human-made climate change.

Morris Malambile says pushing a wheelbarrow filled with water containers every day is "tiring."

On top of that, thousands of leaks throughout the water system means that a lot of the water that does get piped out of the dams may never actually make it into homes. Poor maintenance, like a failed pump on a main water supply, has only worsened the situation.

That has left Malambile — who lives with his sister and her four children — with no choice but to walk his wheelbarrow through the township every single day for the past three months. Without this daily ritual, he and his family would have no drinking water at all.

“People who don’t live here have no idea what it’s like to wake up in the morning, and the first thing on your mind is water,” Malambile said. His family has enough containers to hold 150 liters of water, but each day he fills around half that while the rest is still in use at home.

“Tomorrow, those ones are empty, and I have to bring them again,” he said. “This is my routine, every day, and it is tiring.”

Counting down to Day Zero

The prospects of meaningful rain to help resupply the reservoirs here is looking bleak, and if things keep going the way they are, around 40% of the wider city of Gqeberha will be left with no running water at all.

The Eastern Cape relies on weather systems known as “cut-off lows.” The slow-moving weather systems can produce rain in excess of 50 millimeters (around 2 inches) in 24 hours, followed by days of persistent wet weather. The problem is, that kind of rain just hasn’t been coming.

The next several months do not paint a promising picture either. In its Seasonal Climate Outlook, the South African Weather Service forecasts below-normal precipitation.

This isn’t a recent trend. For nearly a decade, the catchment areas for Nelson Mandela Bay’s main supply dams have received below average rainfall. Water levels have slowly dwindled to the point where the four dams are sitting at a combined level of less than 12% their normal capacity. According to city officials, less than 2% of the remaining water supply is actually useable.

Fresh in the minds of people here is Cape Town’s 2018 water crisis, which was also triggered by the previous, severe drought as well as management problems. The city’s residents would stand in lines for their individually rationed 50 liters of water each day, in fear of reaching Day Zero. It never actually reached that point, but it came dangerously close. Strict rationing enabled the city to halve its water use and avert the worst.

And with no heavy rain expected to come, Nelson Mandela Bay’s officials are so worried about their own Day Zero, they are asking residents to dramatically reduce their water usage. They simply have no choice, the municipality’s water distribution manager Joseph Tsatsire said.

“While it is difficult to monitor how much every person uses, we hope to bring the message across that it is crucial that everyone reduce consumption to 50 liters per person daily,” he said.

A sign urging residents to restrict their water usage in the suburbs of Gqeberha.
To put that in perspective, the average American uses more than seven times that amount, at 82 gallons (372 liters) a day.

While parts of the city will probably never feel the full impact of a potential Day Zero, various interventions are in the pipeline to assist residents in so-called “red zones” where their taps inevitably run dry.

Earlier this month, the South African national government sent a high-ranking delegation to Nelson Mandela Bay to take charge of the crisis and to implement emergency strategies to stretch the last of the city’s dwindling supply.

Leak detection and repairs were a focus, while plans are being made to extract “dead storage water” from below the supply dams’ current levels. Boreholes were drilled in some locations to extract ground water.

Some of the interventions — including patching up leaks and trucking in water — mean some who had lost their water supplies at home are starting to get a trickle from their taps at night. But it’s not enough and authorities are looking to bigger, longer-term solutions to a problem that is only projected to worsen the more the Earth warms.
Workers constructing a water collection point in the Walmer suburb of Gqeberha.
South Africa is naturally prone to drought, but the kind of multi-year droughts that cause such misery and disruption are becoming more frequent.

A desalination plant — to purify ocean water for public consumption — is being explored, though such projects require months of planning, are expensive and often contribute further to the climate crisis, when they are powered by fossil fuels.

People in Kwanobuhle are feeling anxious about the future, wondering when the crisis will end.

At the communal tap there, 25-year-old Babalwa Manyube fills her own containers with water while her 1-year-old daughter waits in her car.

“Flushing toilets, cooking, cleaning — these are problems we all face when there is no water in the taps,” she said. “But raising a baby and having to worry about water is a whole different story. And when will it end? No one can tell us.”

Adapting at home

In Kwanobuhle, the public housing is for people with little to no income. Unemployment is rife and crime is on a steady rise. The streets are packed with residents hustling for money. Old shipping containers operate as a makeshift barbershops.

Just on the other side of the metro is Kamma Heights, a new leafy suburb situated on a hill with a beautiful, uninterrupted view of the city. It is punctuated by several newly built luxury homes, and residents can often be seen sitting on their balconies, enjoying the last few rays of sunshine before the sun dips behind the horizon.

Some residents in Kamma Heights are wealthy enough to secure a backup supply of water. Rhett Saayman, 46, lets out a sigh of relief every time it rains and he hears water flow into the tanks he has erected around his house over the last couple of years.

His plan to save money on water in the long run has turned out to be an invaluable investment in securing his household’s water supply.

Saayman has a storage capacity of 18,500 liters. The water for general household use, like bathrooms, runs through a 5-micron particle filter and a carbon block filter, while drinking and cooking water goes through a reverse osmosis filter.

Rhett Saayman standing next to one of his several water tanks at his home in Kamma Heights.

“We do still rely on municipal water from time to time when we haven’t had enough rain, but that might be two or three times a year, and normally only for a few days at a time,” he said. “The last time we used municipal water was in February, and since then we’ve had sufficient rain to sustain us.”

He added, “Looking at the way things are heading around the city it’s definitely a relief to know we have clean drinking water and enough to flush our toilets and take a shower. Our investment is paying off.”

Residents in many parts of the bay area are being asked to reduce their consumption so that water can be run through stand pipes — temporary pipes placed in strategic locations so that water can be diverted areas most in need.

This means some of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, like Kama Heights, could see huge drop in their water supplies, and they too will have to line up at communal taps, just as those in Kwanobuhle are doing.

Looking ahead, local weather authorities have painted a worrying picture of the months to come, with some warning that the problem had been left to fester for so long, reversing it may be impossible.

“We have been warning the city officials about this for years,” said Garth Sampson, spokesperson for the South African Weather Service in Nelson Mandela Bay. “Whether you want to blame politicians and officials for mismanagement, or the public for not conserving water, it does not matter anymore. Pointing fingers will help no one. The bottom line is we are in a crisis and there is very little we can do anymore.”

Water drips out of a tap at a water collection point in the Walmer suburb of Gqeberha, South Africa. It is one of many collection areas set up in the city.

According to Sampson, the catchment areas supplying Nelson Mandela Bay need about 50 millimeters of rain in a 24-hour period for there to be any significant impact on the dam levels.

“Looking at the statistics over the last several years, our best chance of seeing 50-millimiter events will probably be in August. If we don’t see any significant rainfall by September, then our next best chance is only around March next year, which is concerning,” he said.

“The only way this water crisis is coming to an end it with a flood. But fortunately, or unfortunately — depending on who you ask — there are no forecasts suggesting rain of that magnitude anytime soon.”

Rail strikes and labor shortages are hurting UK economy

The problem escalated Tuesday as thousands of rail workers went on strike over demands for better pay and working conditions — the biggest walkout on the railways in 30 years — bringing large parts of the network to a halt. More strikes are set for Thursday and Saturday.

A separate strike by workers on London Underground also halted tube services.

The railway strikes could continue for months, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has said, and teachers, nurses and other workers could walk out as their pay falls behind soaring rates of inflation, now forecast to peak above 11% later this year. Unison, a union representing 1.3 million public sector workers, said last week that it was “strike-ready.”

Maggie Simpson, director of the Rail Freight Group, told CNN Business that she expects between 30% and 40% less freight will move by train over the course of the week, with critical products, including fuel and supermarket products, prioritized for delivery. She said she was “really worried” about a loss of confidence among businesses that had been increasingly looking to the railways to ship their goods.

A summer of strikes would deal a hefty blow to an economy that has slipped into reverse. But activity was already being held back in industries such as aviation, hospitality and social care because of a record number of vacancies — 1.3 million at the last official count.

Mandira Sarkar, owner of Mandira’s Kitchen, a food delivery and catering company in the southwest of England, describes the labor shortage as a “slow death” for her business of six years.

“It’s been a complete nightmare… [we’re] literally down on our knees as we just can’t seem to find the staff,” she told CNN Business.

Yawning worker gaps across industries have limited businesses’ capacity to grow and is causing some companies to cut back services. Last week, Gatwick, an airport south of London, said it would cut its summer schedule by up to 13% over July and August because it could not find enough workers.

The airline industry slashed jobs during the pandemic as demand for travel nosedived, and has struggled to hire and train enough workers to cope with a strong rebound in passenger numbers over recent months.
EasyJet (ESYJY), a budget airline, said on Monday that it would reduce its summer schedule to about 90% of 2019 levels due, in part, to the disruption at Gatwick.

But it’s not just a hangover of the pandemic. Brexit has ended the free movement of labor between the United Kingdom and Europe, making it much harder for British employers to tap a huge source of workers.

Sarkar said that she “desperately” needs to hire two people to work full time in her kitchen, and blames the twin impact of Brexit and the pandemic for keeping workers away.

A lack of staff has forced her to turn away customers, so much so that Sarkar expects her revenues this year to be 40% lower than in 2021.

“All the eastern European people, all the people that we had, who worked for the hospitality industry, have disappeared [during the pandemic], leaving this huge, big gaping hole,” she said.

The ‘missing million’

The UK labor shortfall is uniquely stark among the world’s biggest rich economies.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Kingdom was the only country in the “Group of Seven” in which the share of working-age people in the labor force dropped between 2020 and 2021.

The OECD also forecasts that the UK economy will stagnate in 2023 — further setting it apart from the G7 economies, all of which are expected to grow.

A recruitment sign in the window of a store in Birmingham, UK.

The Learning and Work Institute, a think tank, calculates that about one million Britons are “missing” from the workforce. Its CEO, Stephen Evans, told CNN Business that the country “weathered the storm relatively well in terms of employment early on in the pandemic thanks to the furlough scheme and other support.”

“But since then we’ve seen this drift out of the labor market,” he added.

Evans said that the bulk of that million is explained by workers aged over 50 and those with long-term health problems giving up work. About one third can be attributed to low population growth — including lower net migration — and about one fifth by young people staying longer in full time education.

While UK unemployment has returned to its pre-pandemic level, standing at 3.8%, that measure only captures the numbers of people actively seeking work. Government policy has tended to focus on lowering this figure, Evans said, but should now reorient to reengage those who have checked out of work completely.

Why comparable economies haven’t seen the same exodus of workers is not yet clear, Tony Wilson, director at the Institute for Employment Studies, told CNN Business.

“[The UK is] one of the very, very few countries in the world that has seen what looks like a pretty structural change in participation,” he said.

Wilson speculated that the UK’s pension freedoms — workers are able to draw on retirement savings starting at age 55 — could be a factor.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that workers aged 50 to 69 taking retirement was the main driver behind a rise in economic inactivity, contributing two-thirds to the increase over the past two years.

Particularly concerning is the rising number of people leaving the labor force due to sickness, Wilson said. Whatever the reason, the trend shows little sign of improving.

“It’s pretty grim really,” he said.

Brexit is biting

The United Kingdom used to have a ready pool of workers on its doorstep, but it is now much harder for European workers to get through the door.

“Higher labor market migration from Europe has helped to smooth [worker shortages] in the past… that doesn’t exist now,” Wilson said.

Ed Thaw, director of Leroy, a London restaurant with a Michelin star, describes Brexit and the pandemic as a “catastrophic double whammy” for his business.

He told CNN Business that hiring from the continent next door is no longer a realistic option.

“That European pool seems to have gone really,” he said.

Since January 2021, all EU nationals seeking work must pass through the same points-based immigration process as other nationalities. About 211,000 fewer EU nationals were working in the UK between January and March compared to the same period in 2020, while the number of non-EU workers rose by 182,000, according to official statistics.

The elderly care sector, which has long suffered from staffing shortages, has been particularly hard hit.

Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, cofounder and owner of Advinia Health Care, one of the country’s biggest care home providers, told CNN Business that the pandemic obscured the “true impact” of Brexit on his industry.

Kanoria, who employs about 3,000 people across 37 homes, said he has at least 10% of positions unfilled at any given moment.

This year, he expects to pay recruitment agencies around £10 million ($12 million) to find both permanent and temporary staff — more than three times what he would usually spend.

People from eastern Europe traditionally made up about one fifth of his staffing pool.

“That has really shrunk, that has gone down to almost 0% now… we just don’t have anyone coming from Europe anymore,” he said.

A government spokesperson told CNN Business that it has “made significant improvements to [its] employer sponsorship scheme, including reducing the time it takes to recruit overseas.”

“This being said, employers should look to the domestic labor market rather than rely on labor from abroad through making investments in the UK through training, wage increases and career options,” the spokesperson said.

Cost-of-living crisis

Soaring prices are also keeping Britons away from jobs in lower-paid sectors.

Nadra Ahmed, executive chairman for the National Care Association, which represents about 800 care home providers, told CNN Business that the high cost of fuel is “beginning to bite” for carers that travel for work.

“The cost-of-living crisis is beginning having an impact and people are having to look at other roles where they might get better pay,” Ahmed said.

The average hourly wage for a private care worker was £9 ($11) for the 2020-21 financial year, according to charity Skills for Care.

Despite rising wages, average pay across the economy fell 2.2% year-on-year between February and April when adjusted for inflation. That’s the biggest drop in more than a decade, according to the ONS.

The Bank of England has warned workers against demanding higher wages to hold down further inflation. The central bank has hiked rates five times since December in a bid to tame prices.

Thaw said it was difficult to recruit in a “buyer’s market” for jobseekers. He is trying, unsuccessfully, to find a new sous chef after one he hired left before even starting. At the same time, his input costs have gone up.

“It’s just basically hampering any sort of growth that we can hope for,” he said.

EU clears path to granting Ukraine ‘candidate status’



EU officials said Tuesday that there was no opposition within the 27-nation bloc to granting war-torn Ukraine “candidate status”, ahead of a summit expected to green light the move.

The bloc’s executive arm last week proposed taking the symbolic first step to put Ukraine on the years-long path towards EU membership in a strong sign of support as Kyiv battles Russia’s military onslaught.

A two-day summit from Thursday looks set to approve the move to formally name Ukraine and neighbouring Moldova “candidates” to start negotiations on joining.

“There is not a single country which makes problems with the proposal,” said Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn at a meeting with EU counterparts in his country’s capital.

“We will show great unanimity.”

The EU is expected to impose conditions on Ukraine and Moldova over judicial reforms and tackling corruption, among other issues, before they could move on to formal entry negotiations.

It would then take years – if not decades – of painstaking evaluations before Ukraine would get close to becoming an actual member.

ALSO READ: Russia to ‘intensify’ fighting, Zelensky warns as EU decision looms

Georgia, which also applied for membership in Ukraine’s slipstream, looks likely to be told it needs to carry out further reforms before it can become a candidate.

Momentum has picked up for the EU to open the door to Ukraine after the leaders of heavyweights France, Germany and Italy threw their heft behind the move on a visit to Kyiv last week.

Three EU diplomats told AFP that no countries raised objections at a meeting of the bloc’s ambassadors on Monday.

More sceptical nations such as the Netherlands and Denmark have said they will back the move provided it is made clear that reforms are needed.

“We want to help the Ukrainians to reach the European dream and granting candidate status is a step and an encouragement to do that,” said Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod.

“It’s also true that that there’s a lot of obligations that have to be fulfilled.”

NOW READ: Ukraine dependent on arms from allies after exhausting Soviet-era weaponry

Biggest rail strike in 30 years brings UK to standstill

Tens of thousands of workers walked out on the first day of Britain’s biggest rail strike in 30 years on Tuesday with passengers facing further chaos as both the unions and government vowed to stick to their guns in a row over pay.

Some of the more than 40,000 rail staff who are due to strike on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday gathered at picket lines from dawn, causing major disruption across the network and leaving major stations deserted. The London Underground metro was also mostly closed due to a separate strike.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, under pressure to do more to help Britons facing the toughest economic hit in decades, said the strike would harm businesses still recovering from COVID.

Unions have said the rail strikes could mark the start of a “summer of discontent” with teachers, medics, waste disposal workers and even barristers heading for industrial action as inflation pushes 10%.

“The British worker needs a pay rise,” Mick Lynch, secretary-general of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers told Sky News. “They need job security and decent conditions.”

During the morning rush-hour, roads were busier than normal with cars, bikes and pedestrians. Hospital staff said some colleagues slept at work overnight to maintain care.

Johnson told his cabinet the strikes were “wrong and unnecessary” and said his message to the country was that they needed to be ready to “stay the course” as improvements to the way railways are run was in the public’s interest.

A survey by pollsters YouGov earlier this month found public opinion divided, with around half of those questioned opposed to the action and just over a third saying they supported it.

Leo Rudolph, a 36-year-old lawyer who walked to work, said he would become more disgruntled the longer the dispute holds.

“This isn’t going to be an isolated occurrence, right?” he told Reuters.

INFLATION FEVER

Inflation has soared across Europe on the back of a major rise in energy costs and Britain is not alone in facing strikes.

Action over the cost of living in Belgium caused disruption at Brussels Airport on Monday, while Germany’s most powerful union is pushing for large wage increases and in France President Emmanuel Macron is facing unrest over pension reforms.

Britain’s economy initially rebounded strongly from the COVID-19 pandemic but a combination of labour shortages, supply chain disruption, inflation and post-Brexit trade problems has prompted warnings of a recession.

The government says it is supporting millions of the poorest households but it warns that above-inflation pay rises would damage the fundamentals of the economy and prolong the problem.

Britain’s railways were effectively nationalised in the pandemic, with train operating companies paid a fixed fee to run services, while the tracks and infrastructure are managed by state-owned Network Rail.

The RMT wants its members to receive a pay rise of at least 7%, but it has said Network Rail offered 2%, with another 1% linked to industry reforms that it opposes. The government has been criticised for not being involved in the talks. Ministers say unions must resolve it directly with employers.

The outbreak of industrial action has drawn comparison with the 1970s, when Britain faced widespread labour strikes including the 1978-79 “winter of discontent”.

The number of British workers who are trade union members has roughly halved since the 1970s with walkouts much less common, in part due to changes made by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to make it more difficult to call a strike.

The government says it will now change the law quickly to force train operators to deliver a minimum service on strike days, and allow employers to bring in temporary staff.

The strikes come as travellers at British airports experience chaotic delays and last-minute cancellations due to staff shortages, while the health service is teetering under the pressure of long waiting lists built up during the pandemic.

© Thomson Reuters 2022.

Millions raised for Ukrainian refugees as Russian Nobel Peace Prize winner sells award

A Nobel Peace Prize given to Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov auctioned to raise money for Ukrainian child refugees has sold for a record $US103.5 million ($A149 million).
Previously, the most paid for a Nobel Prize medal was in 2014, when James Watson —whose co-discovery of the structure of DNA earned him a Nobel Prize in 1962 — sold his medal for $US4.76 million ($A6.86 million).
Mr Muratov’s medal was sold by Heritage Auctions on Monday, which was also World Refugee Day.

The journalist has been highly critical of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the invasion launched in February that has caused nearly five million Ukrainians to flee to other countries for safety, creating the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War Two.

A bidder within a crowd holds up a paddle to signal their bid on the medal.

A bidder takes part in the auction of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize medallion which sold for a record breaking amount. Source: AAP / JASON SZENES/EPA

Since Mr Putin came into power more than two decades ago, nearly two dozen journalists have been killed and at least four of those killed had worked for Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper Mr Muratov helped found.

Mr Muratov was awarded the gold medal in October 2021, and was editor-in-chief at Novaya Gazeta when it shut down in March amid the Kremlin’s clampdown on journalists and public dissent.
It was Mr Muratov’s idea to auction off his prize, having already announced he was donating its accompanying $US500,000 cash award to charity.
The idea of the donation, he said, “is to give the children refugees a chance for a future”.
Mr Muratov has said the proceeds will go directly to UNICEF in its efforts to help children displaced by the war in Ukraine, which Russia referred to as a “special military operation” aimed at denazifiying the country.
Melted down, the 175 grams of 23-carat gold contained in Mr Muratov’s medal would be worth about $US10,000 ($A14,403).

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Mr Muratov told The Associated Press it is important international sanctions levied against Russia do not prevent humanitarian aid, such as medicine for rare diseases and bone marrow transplants, from reaching those in need.
“It has to become a beginning of a flash mob as an example to follow so people auction their valuable possessions to help Ukrainians,” he said in a video released by Heritage Auctions, which has said it would not taking any share of the proceeds for the sale.
Mr Muratov shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year with journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines.

The two journalists, who each received their own medal, were honoured for their battles to preserve free speech in their respective countries, despite coming under attack by harassment, their governments and even death threats.

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Macron to meet political rivals in talks to form a working government

France’s President Emmanuel Macron will hold talks with his rivals on Tuesday, to try and strike a deal to form a working government. 

Macron will likely need the support of one or more smaller parties to get his key reforms through the National Assembly, after losing his overall majority in Sunday’s second round of legislative voting. 

Six of Macron’s political opponents will be arriving at the Elysée Palace one after the other on Tuesday, including the far-right leader Marine Le Pen. 

More talks are due to take place on Wednesday but so far Jean-Luc Mélenchon the leader of the next biggest bloc in the National Assembly, of far-left, socialist and green paries, is not yet expected to make an appearance with his deputy not ruling out the idea of meeting with Macron to support his government, but asking “for what purpose?” 

A number of political party leaders have already demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

At the end of the second round of elections on Sunday, Macron’s candidates won 245 seats, ahead of the left-wing coalition Nouvelle Union Populaire Ecologique et Sociale (NUPES) with 131 and the far-right National Rally which made a historic breakthrough with 89 seats. 

Who could partner with Macron?

Macron’s camp might have to contend with ruling with a minority in parliament or cohabiting with a prime minister and government from a different camp.

They now face the realities of a National Assembly with two hostile opposition groups as he tries to push through important reforms – including on pensions, tax cuts and raising the retirement age – all of which will be nearly impossible to do without a coalition partner.

“We will have to show a lot of imagination” to govern, admitted economy minister Bruno Le Maire.

So who might go into partnership with Macron in the National Assembly? 

“We are and we will remain in the opposition: there will be no pact or coalition with Emmanuel Macron,” said Christian Jacob, leader of the the Republicans. 

The left-green NUPES bloc will most likely strongly oppose Macron’s reforms, having platformed on actually lowering the retirement age from 62 to 60 and return of wealth taxes on people and companies. However bloc leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon will most likely have to give up on his ambition of being prime minister.

Mélenchon vowed to keep the bloc together, branding it a “rebellion [which] now has a face”. However, his call on Monday for his alliance to form one parliamentary group immediately ran into trouble, with the Socialists, Greens and Communists all rejecting the idea. 

Meanwhile Marine Le-Pen vowed to “implement the blocking of all harmful reforms” that Macron is proposing, “first and foremost” would be to block plans to raise the retirement age in France to 65.

‘The Chosen One’ producers, Netflix comment on actor deaths

In their first public comments since two of their actors were killed, producers of the Millarworld comic book adaptation “The Chosen One” called the tragedy “an unfortunate accident.”

Two actors on the Netflix series, an adaption of the comic “American Jesus,” were killed and six other cast or crew members injured after the van they were riding in crashed on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula last Thursday.

RedRum, the production company behind the show, said the group had an accident while on transit from Santa Rosalía, Baja California, to the local airport, and there were no signs that any safety measures had been breached.

Local media reported that the van flipped after running off the road Thursday in a desert area near Mulege, southeast of Santa Rosalía.

Production was halted, according to a person with knowledge of the show who was not authorized to speak publicly.

“All of us on the production of “The Chosen One” are shocked by the tragic accident,” the production company said in a statement. “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our colleagues Ray Garduño and Juan Francisco González and are closely supporting all those affected by this unspeakable tragedy. Redrum has been cooperating with local authorities and initial reports and accounts from witnesses indicate that all safety protocols were in place and this was an unfortunate accident.”

Netflix issued a brief statement Monday, saying, “Our thoughts are with their loved ones and with those injured during this unfortunate accident.”

The public comments from the makers of the show are the first since the tragedy last week.

Former colleagues of the actors took to social media to commemorate them. Several posters called for an investigation into the accident. One said that actors on the set had complained about transportation issues, including tired drivers.

Yeray Albelda, a 37-year-old actor, was one of the van’s passengers. He said that the crew members had been taking off for a week-and-a-half long break and that at least several other passengers — including the two who died in the crash — were planning to spend it at home in Tijuana.

At one point, they stopped for burritos. The crash occurred several hours into the drive, said Albelda, who sustained fractures on his skull and collarbone and has no memory of the accident.

Albelda arrived in Santa Rosalia in early June to work on the set. He said he hadn’t heard complaints about tired drivers and that fresh drivers would work while others rested.

“I never saw anything strange,” he said. “I never saw flat tires or exposed cables.”

But Albelda said that some people working on the series did complain about having to be driven more than two hours to get to the film set because they couldn’t get a hotel room in the area.

Although rare, accidents on film sets have been on the rise as production has boomed and crews have worked longer hours. Crews have been fighting for decades for unions and studios to recognize the risks of long hours and commuting while tired. Crews can often work 12 to 14 hour days.

In 1997, assistant camera operator Brent Hershman died after falling asleep at the wheel of his car as he was driving home from a 19-hour workday on the Long Beach set of the movie “Pleasantville.”

“The Chosen One” was one of the latest adaptions from Netflix’s 2017 acquisition of comic book company Millarworld, a deal it pursued to tap into demand for superhero-related content. The aim was to adapt characters from the publisher’s titles into shows, films and kids’ content to stream on Netflix.