Expert comment: industrial strike action

Categories: Salford Business School

On the biggest day of industrial strikes in a decade, Dr Jonathan Lord, Senior Lecturer in Human Resources Management and Employment Law at University of Salford Business School, shared his thoughts. He commented on what the government needs to consider to come to a solution and ensure this doesn’t manifest further, as well as recommendations for employers.

1 February has seen the biggest day of industrial strikes in a decade with seven trade unions taking action, affecting schools, universities, trains and buses. This has resulted in half a million workers walking out in disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.

The TUC, which represents the majority of trade unions, is also holding a series of protests over the government’s plans for a new law on minimum levels of service during industrial action; encouraging a petition against this, which has been signed by more than 200,000 members of the public.

Trade union members do not receive pay for days on strike and there is no crystal ball to know how long this will last for. But, what is important is a clear line of communication between the employer and management. The government usually absolves responsibility directly to the employer for dispute resolution, although unions such as the RMT have indicated that government departments are interfering with negotiations which is leading to further antagonism and a lack of solution.

There has also been a lack of skills around industrial relations being utilised by employers, resulting in an over reliance on HR professionals and employment lawyers to circumnavigate the traditional method of industrial relations. Employers need to recruit more IR specialists/train existing employees up on these skills, so that disputes can be avoided or minimised.

Who will blink first, trade unions or the government? History tells us that factors such as the economy and trade union members’ appetite for sustained industrial action, suffering loss of pay, will dictate how long the disputes will last for.

The government will need to seriously consider managing a lengthy period of strikes, which impacts all aspects of society, and more effective communication rather than draconian anti-trade union law as the key to solving this issue from manifesting even further. If not, the biggest level of industrial action in a decade, could easily turn into the largest in a century.

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