Justify pay strategies to reduce industrial unrest

This
month saw the publication of DLA’s
12th annual survey on the state of industrial relations in the UK,
which polled more than 300 large employers,
and 27 trade unions with a combined membership of more than 2.8 million people.

The
survey included a report on the levels of industrial unrest recently
experienced by respondents. Highlights from this year’s findings include:


32 per cent of employer respondents experienced some form of industrial unrest,
compared with 49 per cent the year before


18 per cent of employers reported ballot threats and 15 per cent reported
actual ballots, compared with 27 per cent of threats and 36 per cent of actual
ballots in 2003


19 per cent of public sector employers experienced strike action, and 21 per
cent experienced action short of a strike


3 per cent of private sector employers reported strike action, and 3 per cent
action short of a strike.

The
results confirm a fall in the number of employers experiencing industrial
action, and a big difference in experiences between the private and public
sectors.

There
is undoubtedly a trend in the UK
for fewer, but larger, disputes, and a
concentration of those are
in the public and recently privatised
sectors. The number of strikes has fallen, but the days lost to strike action
remains significant compared with recent years. In 2003, 499,000 days were
lost. The official figure for the number of days lost during the first five
months of 2004 is 623,000. That indicates the potential to reach a 13-year high
in the number of days lost to industrial action (although nothing like a return
to the levels seen in the 1970s and 1980s).

The
experiences of public sector employers
contrasts
with the private sector, where results indicate greater
stability. Levels of industrial unrest are down, and strikes are few. Whether
this stability is long-term is likely to be affected by the impact of the
National Information and Consultation Directive (NICD) regulations.

Trade
unions appear united in their positive approach to the NICD. None of those
responding to our survey believe they would be detrimental to the influence and
membership of their trade union. This indicates a considerable and positive
swing in the attitude of unions towards the NICD. Last year, 20 per cent of
trade union respondents said they expected the NICD to have a detrimental
impact.

However,
many employers predict increased levels of industrial unrest over the next 12
months. What can be done to minimise this risk?

As
far as the public sector is concerned, so many issues are influenced by
government policy and strategy that there is unlikely to be a great deal that HR professionals and managers
can do. For example, political advantage is being sought by politicians
pressing for large cuts in Civil Service posts. HR professionals in many
private sector organisations must sympathise with their counterparts within the
Civil Service. They now have to deal with thousands of job cuts and
restructuring in dialogue with strong recognised trade unions with high
membership levels.

As
for the private sector, our survey confirms that pay and benefits continue to
be the dominant factors behind industrial unrest. More than 60 per cent is
caused by disputes over pay and benefits (including pensions).

Justifying
a pay and benefits strategy must be a priority if HR is to avert industrial
unrest. Compliance with the NICD regulations will present just such an
opportunity. It will also provide opportunities for the trade unions to become
informed about and challenge (in the course of consultation) those strategies
in a wider range of workplaces. Effective communication (as well as legal
compliance) is going to be of increasing importance to HR professionals.

Go
to www.dla.com/irsurvey for a copy of
the results

By Mark Leach, partner, employment group, DLA

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