Employers fear public sector strikes will damage business

Nearly two-thirds of private sector employers fear that industrial action by public sector workers – sparked by Government spending cuts – will have a detrimental impact on their business, research has revealed.

In a survey of 500 UK business leaders from the public and private sectors, released by law firm DLA Piper on the eve of the Comprehensive Spending Review, 88% anticipate increased industrial action in the coming months. Two-thirds of the 350 respondents from the private sector predict that strikes will damage their business.

Union calls for “coordinated action” by public sector worker are a significant threat to business, according more than a quarter of the 300 larger private companies with annual turnovers in excess of £250 million questioned.

More than half of respondents believe that the Government should intervene to prevent strikes in the transport and communications industries – with more support generated from the private sector (58%) compared with their public sector counterparts (37%).

There was also strong support for the CBI’s call to change the law and introduce a minimum threshold in strike ballots, with more than three-quarters (76%) of the respondents in favour. In contrast, only 26% were in favour of any measures to extend the circumstances when unions are immune from legal action.

Other findings from the survey include:

  • Despite the implementation of the Equality Act on 1 October, only 4% of those employers in companies with more than 250 employees ranked equality and diversity as the most important staff issue for management to address from a list of five issues. Employee relations was ranked first (by 39%) followed by employee commitment (23%) then reward/compensation/benefits (19%) and absence management (15%).
  • Three out of five industrial disputes are over pay/benefits (47%) and pensions (13%).
  • A majority (54%) of private sector respondents engage with trade unions either through collective bargaining or talking to unions on relevant issues.

David Bradley, partner at DLA Piper, said: “As the threat of a double dip recession remains, it is worrying that industrial unrest is on the rise and potentially could thwart economic recovery. In a volatile economy, employers face multiple risks and challenges making it imperative to focus resources and attention on employee relations to protect and nurture performance and profits.”

“The study’s findings provide strong encouragement for the Government from business leaders to tighten the laws around strike action,” he added. “Careful consideration will be required as trade unions already consider existing laws as punitive and disproportionate.”

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