Now that the infighting, the promises of a “return to the 1970s” and the usual denunciations of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) meeting are over for another year, it’s a timely moment to reflect on the times ahead. To this end, national law firm DLA’s eleventh annual industrial relations survey provides an informative, if not altogether happy, picture of what’s to come.
The survey found that almost one quarter of employers (22 per cent) experienced strike action, which represents a 10 per cent increase on last year. The public sector was the worst hit with 44 per cent of employers facing strikes, doubling last year’s figures. Looking to the future, just under half of employers (48 per cent) expected industrial unrest to be stepped up over the next year. The gloomy outlook is backed up by the Government’s own figures which, according to the Office for National Statistics, reveal that the number of days lost to strikes last year increased to 1.3 million, the highest for more than a decade and more than double those in the previous two years.
So what, in an increasingly crowded employment agenda, is troubling the bosses and workers? The proposal to increase rights for agency workers, for a start, is seen by a large number of employers as a big problem, with more than 50 per cent of businesses expecting it to have a detrimental effect, according to the DLA survey. The Working Time Regulations are also, not surprisingly, the cause of much consternation. Although employers appear to have accepted the impact of the original regulations, the fear now is the prospect of the removal of the personal opt-out, while that very issue is at the top of the unions’ wish list, with 52 per cent backing it. TUC general secretary Brendan Barber last week launched a campaign for the UK to fully sign up to the directive. A vivid example of the potential of Working Time to cause problems came in the form of last week’s Jaeger ruling by the European Court of Justice (reported below).
All in all, the grim prognosis was for troubled times ahead. But, as DLA notes, there was some consolation – well, at least there was for lawyers. When disputes arose the vast majority of employers and employees turned straight to their lawyers (62 per cent), as opposed to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) (38 per cent) or relying on their own devices (22 per cent). And so it looks like employment lawyers won’t be struggling for work.