As this week's TUC conference begins, a survey of nearly 250 employers by legal firm DLA shows that many could be in for a bumpy ride over the next few months.
The survey reveals that almost half of employers expect strike ballots, double the amount last year. Meanwhile, TUC general secretary John Monks has told Personnel Today he supports strike action over firms ending final salary pension schemes (News, page 3). Another flash point is private finance and the unions' plan to lobby the Government to halt further private sector involvement in public services. This is not good news for HR directors who believe outsourcing deals are the best way to deliver services.
Meanwhile, fire fighters are threatening their first national strike since 1977, an unwelcome reminder for the Government of the bad old days of 1970s industrial strife. Low public sector pay and unions' disenchantment with New Labour are key factors bringing about the new mood.
All of this means that old-fashioned industrial relations skills, left to languish in the era of union partnerships, will have to be sharpened up again. HR teams will need to make sure they have the competencies within their ranks for tough negotiations, while at the same time building on the partnership tradition of giving unions a stake in decisions which affect the organisation.
Consignia is one company that seems to have learned the lesson that HR skills are essential to avoid workplace unrest. The company is about to appoint a board-level HR director for the first time after damning reports on its industrial relations and a history of wildcat strikes.
In this changing industrial climate, any organisation that ignores the need for strong HR at the highest level does so at its peril.