Employers strike a gloomy note over industrial action

A new survey suggests that a third of employers expect their staff to strike over the next year. Then again, they said that two years ago too...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
In recent years, mass strikes have thankfully been a fairly uncommon occurrence - excepting the trouble at BA, of course, which has played last-minute havoc with many families' holiday plans, and the semi-regular disruption at the Royal Mail (particularly over the Christmas period). But that could all change this year, if the results of a new survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development are anything to go by. Apparently, 71% of employers expect to see more walk-outs in the next 12 months, while a third think industrial action by their staff is 'likely’. This could lead to some serious disruption - unless they're being overly pessimistic again...

If these figures sound high, it’s partly because of the number of public sector businesses in the survey - almost half of whom are expecting their staff to strike in the next year, as the Government spending cuts begin to take their toll. By contrast, others were much more optimistic: just 18% of private sector employers anticipate action at some point this year, and only 5% of non-profits. But the general picture seems pretty clear: the majority of organisations are expecting to see a lot more strikes in the next year, even if might not affect them directly.

It's not all bad news, though. Ben Wilmott, the CIPD’s senior policy adviser, points out that in a similar survey in 2008, a third of employers were expecting strike action over the following year - but in the end the figures were nowhere near as high as that. Instead, says Wilmott, for the large part, employers and their workers managed to negotiate their way out of trouble.

There's a catch, though: the relationship between management and unions appears to have deteriorated since 2008. While the CIPD points out that relations are ‘still generally positive’, the proportion of employers who would describe the situation as such has gone done noticeably - from 65% in 2008, to 55% in 2011. So perhaps it'll be harder for the two sides to reach an accommodation this time round.

On the other hand, three-quarters of workers are apparently aware of the fact that, as Wilmott puts it, ‘public-sector workers will quickly lose sympathy if they cause disruption to the general public’. Which may come as a relief to the employers concerned - and to those of us who rely on their services.

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