With the cost of living soaring and wages not keeping pace strike action by workers seeking to protect their incomes is already a feature of this summer. We have workers across sectors such as rail, aviation, teaching, social care, social housing and even lawyers threatening or taking extremely disruptive strike action.

For employees, strike action has typically been the last resort as it usually hits them in the pocket in the short term and as a result, the number of days lost to industrial action had been declining in recent years. However, many are now concluding they have no other option, having worked tirelessly through the Covid-19 pandemic they are not now prepared to accept a significant decline in their living standards. As a result, up and down the country businesses are having to manage difficult pay negotiations with staff and unions whilst also planning how they will cope with industrial action.

The Government is clearly worried that a summer of strike action will cause disruption and potentially lead to inflation fuelling pay increases. In response, the Government has issued draft regulations which will remove the restriction on agency workers being supplied to businesses who are seeking to maintain their services in the midst of a strike and they are likely to come into force later this month. 

So have these changes been welcomed? Well not by employment agencies themselves with thirteen of the leading employment agencies including Hays, Adecco, Randstad and Manpower writing to the Government saying:

“We strongly believe it has the potential to cost our businesses – as we will be held responsible for sending strikebreakers across a picket line and putting our workers in harm’s way. It will not matter if our individual businesses choose not to supply – the industry will be called into disrepute.”

So if you are in a situation which seems to be spiralling towards strike action what should you do? Here are eight brief thoughts:

  1. Keep lines of communication with union and employee representatives open.
  2. Be transparent with employee representatives - take time to explain the detail of your financial accounts and your predictions and key aspects of your thinking.
  3. Use conciliation services such as ACAS or other third-party mediators to help find a resolution
  4. Keep your communications with employees relating to the potential dispute factual, not personal.  The financial challenges people are facing need to be acknowledged.
  5. Encourage people to take part in any ballot so you get the best representation of views.
  6. Be mindful that not all strike action is lawful. Review any documentation received from unions carefully to ensure it complies with the law.
  7. Plan how to cover for striking workers. This is likely to now include considering engaging agency staff (which will come at a premium). It can already include contracting out services to a third party.
  8. Communicate with key stakeholders. What messages will you send to your customers and suppliers, and when?