Employees less supportive of public sector cuts, but feel strikes not the answer

Employee support for public sector cuts has fallen but many still believe striking public workers will lose sympathy if they cause disruption, a report has found.

According to research by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD), three-fifths (59%) of workers agree that the deficit needs to be reduced through cuts to public spending, down from 64% last year.

The report was published in advance of the planned day of action by public sector workers on 30 November over proposed pension reforms.

While it is no surprise that the public sector saw a greater drop in support for the cuts to public spending, down from 50% in 2010 to 40% this year, support also fell among private sector workers with 65% agreeing that public service budgets had to be cut, a fall of 4% from last year.

The CIPD’s Employee Outlook Focus on Industrial Relations report also found that seven employees in 10 (72%) thought that public sector workers would quickly lose sympathy if they caused disruption to public services.

This figure has fallen slightly since 2010 when 74% agreed with this statement; however, attitudes among private sector respondents remained unchanged.

Nearly half (44%) of the 2,000 employees surveyed said that they were more concerned about the damage strikes would do than about the impact of spending cuts.

Ben Willmott, CIPD head of public policy, said that what will be most revealing about the strikes on 30 November is what happens next.

“How much appetite is there, among core union members, for a really sustained campaign of strike action or non-cooperation, such as work to rule?” Willmott asked. “Just as importantly, what would happen to public attitudes to strike action if there really was sustained and widespread disruption to essential services?

“The eventual outcome of the dispute will depend on the extent to which negotiations are seen as genuine by both parties and the extent to which the Government and union leaders are able to convince union members and the wider working public that their position is fair and reasonable.”

He added that both the Government and unions will have to remain flexible and be prepared to compromise to avoid any further strike action at a time when “the UK can least afford it”.

Earlier this month, several employment lawyers claimed that public sector employers would be able challenge any strike action over pensions. While Stephen Blunt, partner at law firm Clyde & Co, said that employers could successfully obtain a court injunction against strikes if they could prove they were politically motivated, Chris Mordue, employment partner at law firm Pinsent Masons, said that the ballots themselves could be “fatally flawed”.

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