18/05/2010

Election business manual – potential strike action

Q: Most of my workforce belongs to a union which is already talking of potential strike action if major budget cuts are introduced by the Government.  What position should I take with the union now?

A: With an ‘age of austerity’ promised by the Government the inevitable cuts may mean you have to tighten your purse strings even further. This could mean imposing pay freezes, reducing benefits, restricting bonuses, offering unpaid sabbaticals, reducing hours and making redundancies.

But should you really be concerned about strike action and, if so, what steps can you take to avert it?

The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 gives Trade Unions immunity against legal action being taken against them.  This immunity is, however, only granted where the action that they take is in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute.

The key is therefore to ensure that you avoid a ‘trade dispute’ with your employees and the two most common areas for dispute are:

  • the terms and conditions of employment, or the physical conditions in which any workers are required to work; and
  • engagement or termination or suspension of employment or the duties of employment

If there are no proposals in respect of either of these then there is unlikely to be a reason for a dispute to occur. However, if as a result of budget cuts you identify the possibility of a dispute it is vital to do everything to avoid one arising with your workforce or their Trade Union.

The key to effectively handling the situation is to talk to your Trade Union(s).  You should:

  • advise them that currently there are no proposals to vary terms or make redundancies and therefore no trade dispute;
  • ensure they are kept well informed of any proposals at an early stage and before any decisions are taken; and
  • clearly explain the reasons behind proposals and consequences if proposals are not agreed.

If and when changes need to be made, thorough consultation and negotiation will not only avoid claims from employees but should, in most cases, ensure that Trade Unions do not feel the need to take industrial action.

With the right approach Trade Unions will often embrace your position and encourage your employees to enter into the spirit of what is being proposed.

If you would like to speak to anyone regarding the issues addressed in this article, please contact Philip Paget on 0113 227 0212 or at philip.paget@gordonsllp.com.