Unite general secretary Derek Simpson has told HR professionals across the UK to prepare for war with trade unions.
Simpson – who jointly fronts the UK's biggest trade union, Unite – said the government's handling of the economic squeeze had left many workers ready to snap in their desperation for higher wages.
His comments came as fresh evidence showed employers in both the public and private sectors were braced for industrial action.
A Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) survey of more than 450 unionised employers found one in three feared strikes in the year ahead.
"Relations with HR are going to be strained by the current frustrations," Simpson told Personnel Today at the TUC conference in Brighton last week.
"Employers and employees are under pressure, and that is going to push people into conflict.," he said.
"HR is the front line, and it will get more fractious. We are not seeking conflict, but it is coming to us because of policies outside our control."
On the eve of the CIPD annual conference in Harrogate, Simpson insisted that HR should be focusing its energy on helping senior managers understand union demands.
"HR needs to broaden management's view," he said. "When the pressure is on, we all jump in the trenches. But that is not necessarily the best thing to do."
The unions spent much of last week's conference calling for higher wages to help workers cope with soaring food, fuel and mortgage bills.
With budgets tight, nearly 90% of employers that told the CIPD they feared strikes said pay would be the critical issue.
CIPD chief executive Jackie Orme said: "Pay restraint is undoubtedly having an effect on the industrial relations climate.
"We expect to see some strike action in the months ahead, but the vast majority of people will work with their employers to get through these tougher times, and come out the other side in good shape."
The last CIPD annual conference to be held in Harrogate takes place from Tuesday to Thursd