Law firms lose out to Acas on industrial action instructions

Acas remains preferred adviser; legal intervention proves growing trend after strike prevention success


With the amount of industrial action predicted to increase over the next 12 months, the roles of legal advisers and conciliators will be crucial, says a report released this month by DLA.

The survey shows that 42 per cent of unions predict an increase in industrial action over the coming 12 months. However, law firms are yet to muscle in on work in this area. A whopping 85 per cent of unions and 64 per cent of employers turn to Acas, rather than external lawyers, when seeking advice on industrial action. This is despite the fact that 21 per cent of respondents reported a lack of success with Acas, compared with just 2 per cent of employers and 7 per cent of unions finding fault with their independent legal advisers.

However, David Bradley, head of the human resources group at DLA and author of the survey, said: “Acas continues to get really good press.”

The report also suggests a move towards legally enforceable collective bargaining agreements. The ‘easy pickings’, in terms of voluntary agreements, are coming to an end. Of the unions, 40 per cent reported that they had secured no new recognition agreements in the past 12 months and 23 per cent predicted that they would not secure any next year.

Interestingly, 60 per cent of trade unions would still prefer a legally enforceable collective bargaining agreement. Although this would mean that employers were committed to the collective bargaining process, it means that the union itself may be subjected to legal action in terms of the promises it makes.

There is also a trend towards legal intervention in industrial action. Increased threatened legal intervention prevented a number of strikes last year, including the high-profile spat between the Football League and the Professional Footballers Association. Bradley said: “A move towards legally binding collective agreements would inevitably increase the likelihood of such intervention.”