More than half of the UK's senior HR professionals are in teams in which nobody has experience of dealing with trade union action, according to new research.
In the YouGov poll of more than 300 HR managers, commissioned by HR consultancy Croner, almost two-thirds (63%) admitted that they knew little or nothing about the current laws on trade unions, while 40% said that they do not feel confident dealing with union action.
The research also reveals that one in five senior HR professionals believe that trade union action is likely to affect their organisation in the next six months. Of these, 20% say that this activity is likely to have a "huge impact" on their organisation.
Carol Smith, senior employment consultant at Croner, said it was "concerning" that so many HR professionals felt under-prepared to deal with trade union activity, despite anticipating that it could have a significant impact on their organisations.
"However, it is not surprising as it is a long time since we have been in a similar economic climate. As a consequence, it is the first time that many HR people have had to think about or deal with industrial action," she said.
"This survey shows that the HR sector recognises a shortfall in its knowledge and expertise, and the need to take steps to understand and be confident on the laws surrounding industrial action and management of industrial relations."
Employers should be offering support through training and education programmes to assist HR professionals and ensure that sectors of the economy do not come to a standstill if the predicted rise in union action occurs, Smith warned.
HR blogger Graham Salisbury said that the findings highlight the need for HR to re-focus on employee relations.
"At some point, HR will need to block its ears to the siren calls of strategy, organisational design and talent management, and realise that there's a difficult job to be done," he said. "The job that used to be called industrial relations. The name might have changed, but the activity is still there to be done."
In August, the 2010 XpertHR survey on working with trade unions revealed that employers remained positive about the relationship with unions despite some testing times during the recession.