UK set for rise in industrial action

Sep 02 2003 by Brian Amble Print This Article

The UK looks set for a period of rocky industrial relations following a dramatic rise in strike action over the past twelve months, with particular problems expected in the public sector.

Law firm DLAís 11th Annual Industrial Relations Survey revealed that one in five British employers were affected by strike action over the past 12 months, nearly double the previous yearís figure.

The public sector was particularly badly hit, with 44 per cent of employers facing strike action (twice the figure from last year), compared to an overall industry figure of 22 per cent (up 10 per cent on the previous year).

And almost half of employers expect an increase in industrial unrest in the coming year.

DLAís figures show that the main reasons for potential strikes are disputed pay (cited by 36 per cent of respondents), working conditions (25 per cent) and job security (24 per cent).

Pensions are also becoming an increasingly contentious issue, with one in five trade unions and one in ten firms raising concerns over the closure of final salary schemes and the proposed government changes to compulsory retirement ages.

The survey also forecasts the development of a trend toward relatively fewer incidents of industrial unrest but involving more employees. While the number of strikes experienced by employers dropped over the last year, the number of days lost was the highest for 10 years at 1,323,000.

"Following a decade of relatively benign conditions the UK appears to be in a period of general decline in terms of the levels of industrial unrest and its impact on the economy," said David Bradley, head of employment law at DLA.

"The public and recently privatised private sectors will continue to be a focus for industrial action over the coming year."

Based on the Survey results, DLA also predicts that the heavily promoted concept of partnerships between employers and trade unions will not be capable of meeting the challenges faced over the coming 12 months.

The idea of the two sides of industry working together for mutual prosperity and long-term secure employment has been welcomed by employers but there is little evidence to suggest it is working in practice.

According to David Bradley, "in theory, partnerships should have a real prospect of transforming UK industrial relations into an environment where mature debate leads to the resolution of difficult issues. However, a disinclination by trade unions to offer a modified approach in the public sector and the suspicion that employers in the private sector are uncomfortable with supplying sufficient information to provide a foundation for that debate, does not augur well."