Shift in nature of industrial conflict

by Employment Blawg on December 7, 2012

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Guest post regarding a shift in the nature of industrial conflict.

The past fifty years have seen a marked change in the ways that trade unions put employers under pressure, according to a new report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). The role of employee relations professional has changed too – to one of preventing rather than managing conflict.

Strike action over the years

The average number of days lost each year due to industrial action has been under one million over the last twenty years, according to government statistics highlighted in the report, ‘Managing Employee Relations in difficult times’.

This compares to 12.9 million in the 1970’s and 7.2 million in the 1980’s.

The great majority of days lost each year have been in the public sector (92% in 2011) and over half of all days lost have been for one day only.

Change in tactics

The dramatic drop in the number of stoppages does not mean that industrial conflict has gone away. Rather, the nature of industrial action has changed, and the trade unions are now using different tactics. According to the CIPD, these include:

  • The use of ballots, and threats of ballots, for industrial action. These are used as a tool to persuade employers to negotiate: ONS figures show that in 2011 there were almost 1,000 ballots, of which only 149 were followed by stoppages of work.
  • Street demonstrations, with trade unions making common cause with other community or political groups, such as on the national ‘day of action’ organised by the TUC in September 2011.
  • Threats to damage an employer’s reputation or brand, which can be quite powerful: in some cases, simply being subject to industrial action can be seen as damaging by the employer

Impact on employee relations

The change in tactics reflects a perception that industrial action organised on traditional lines is no longer a reliable tool for achieving trade union objectives, says Mike Emmott, Employee Relations Adviser at the CIPD.

This has had an impact on the role of employee relations practitioners, who now focus more on preventing rather than managing conflict.

“They do not see managing conflict as central to their role as an ER practitioner but they are engaged, day in and day out, with issues directly affecting business performance and are giving essential support to both top management and front-line supervisors to protect the future of the business,” said Emmott.

In fact, says the report, most employers involved in the research claim to have a good relationship with trade unions, viewing them as key stakeholders and working with them, so far as possible, to resolve conflicts.

Employment Law Advice

For employment law advice, contact Miller Samuel Solicitors, employment solicitors in Glasgow.

Employment Blawg

Employment Blawg

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