Workplace rights: Striking back

Anyone who uses public transport or posts the odd letter will have noticed that strikes are back in fashion.

by Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLPsolicitors - e-mail:

Last year, an alarming 750,500 working days were lost to industrial disputes, up from just 157,000 in 2005. No surprise, then, that the 'winter of discontent' cliches are being dusted down, along with the Christmas decorations. The Government recently secured a court injunction requiring the Prison Officers Association to comply with a no-strike agreement, ending a national wildcat strike. But this is not a viable tactic for most employers: unions are unlikely to sign a deal relinquishing their chief industrial weapon unless they're in a feeble bargaining position. And even if you include a no-strike clause in an agreement with a union or worker representatives, it will almost always be presumed not to be legally enforceable. Employers may still have a legal remedy if threatened with action - for example, if the organisers fail to comply with statutory balloting requirements or plan unlawful secondary action. But organisations that foster 'partnership' at work by communicating with staff representatives and involving them in strategic business decisions have the least to fear from an increasingly wintry industrial relations climate.

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