Union activity on the rise

TRADE unions are taking a more “sophisticated” approach to industrial action, turning away from all-out strikes and opting for discontinuous action, a new report says.

Produced by Dibb Lupton Broomhead, the annual industrial relations survey shows employees are now seeking alternative methods of action to resolve industrial disputes including one-day stoppages and overtime bans.

The report says unions have become increasingly active throughout the course of the year, which is evidenced by a 12 per cent upturn to 34 per cent in the number of unionised employers faced with industrial unrest.

Dibbs' national head of human resources Paul Nicholls said the new course of action was “easier on union members' pockets” but “highly disruptive” for employers.

“We've identified a new sophistication in trade unions,” said Nicholls. “There's still a lot of activity, but it's being resolved before strikes. It shows a new attitude.”

The study, which canvasses both unionised and non-unionised employers as well as trade unions, claims that while the number of stoppages enforced in the past 12 months was consistent with the previous year – remaining at 8 per cent – employees are now looking for other solutions to industrial disputes.

A significant decrease in the number of employers prepared to sack staff is also charted, but 90 per cent still maintain they would consider legal proceedings in the event of unlawful industrial action.

Nicholls said that despite the swing away from all-out strikes, agreements were still being reached and relationships between employers and trade unions were “broadly good”.

He said unions were now winning the majority of ballots and gaining permission to take action, but plans were usually halted and matters resolved.

“This shows a toughening up on the part of the unions and, more importantly, the members,” said Nicholls.

“Employers have held the line on pay matters this year, but it's been difficult to do and there's an expectation it will be more difficult next year. Unions are flexing their muscles.

“This year there has been an element of concession on the part of employers, but not much has been asked for.

“It's possible that next year more will be asked for and employers will be forced into a harder line.”