London law firm DLA's Annual Industrial Relations Survey polled 370 employers (covering more than 1.7 million employees) and 22 trade unions. The report found that UK employers faced almost twice as much strike action over the past 12 months compared with last year. The public sector was especially active, with 44% of employers facing strike action, compared to an overall industry figure of 22%.
Even with these increased figures, more than 33% of the public sector employers surveyed expect matters to get worse in the coming 12 months. Across all sectors, 48% of employers expect an increase in industrial unrest, including ballots, actions short of a strike and strike action, next year.
Employers and trade unions both agreed that the three leading causes of unrest were disputed pay (36%), working conditions (25%) and job security (24%).
In addition, 20% of trade unions and more than 10% of employers indicated that pension rights are increasingly becoming an issue. Employees are particularly concerned about the closure of final-salary schemes and proposed changes to compulsory retirement ages.
The survey found that employers are not confident about the ability of managers and shop stewards to work in partnership with each other and feel that most have insufficient skills to handle industrial disputes. Only a minority of trade unions surveyed said they offered special training to shop stewards in the concept and practice of partnerships.
The survey also sought responses from employers and trade unions on areas of new legislation. Of key concern to employers was new legislation affecting the flexibility of the labour force, particularly relating to the use of agency workers.