Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Winter of Discontent continues: but how can employers limit the disruption to their business?

The Winter of Discontent continues for the UK with ongoing strike action across several industries having a major impact on businesses.

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, explains how employers can best support employers impacted by the strikes.

“With public transport facing severe disruption over the past and coming months, it’s likely many employees will face significant difficulties getting to and from work. It’s important for employers to be understanding when it comes to managing lateness, with some staff unable to get to work at all. Even employees who don’t rely on trains or buses to get to work might find that their normal routes are busier than usual, so make appropriate allowances where needed.

“To minimise disruption to business operations, speak with your employees, understand who will be affected by strike action, and agree alternative arrangements in advance. Starting earlier or finishing later could make it easier to catch trains, trams, or other forms of public transport outside of peak rush hour times. A car-pooling system could be temporarily agreed, or accommodations made for them to work from home on days when strike action is taking place. Where this isn’t possible, there is the option of enforcing annual leave (with the correct notice) or asking staff to use accrued TOIL.

“Teacher strikes in Scotland are also taking place throughout January, with more expected in February, which may be of concern to working parents. Teaching unions in England and Wales are also balloting members over pay so we could potentially see wider strike action across education soon.

“Time off for dependants may not apply here since parents have enough notice to make alternative plans. But employers should be reasonable with requests for annual leave and unpaid leave.

“In addition, NHS nurses in England will walk out in some trusts on Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19 January. While emergency care will still be provided, routine services will be limited with many operations postponed. Employees who had booked time off for treatment may now find themselves having to cancel it and rebook for a future date.

“Whilst there is no obligation for an employer to cancel pre-booked annual leave, they should be as accommodating as possible. Employers should also be mindful of their staff who are on long-term sick leave whilst waiting for operations. Given many operations could be postponed, this could mean employers will need to provide sick pay for a longer period than originally anticipated.”

Employers may also be concerned about the potential of a general strike in the UK as union leaders discuss the possibility of co-ordinated action.

However, the Government is hoping that a bill being introduced in Parliament today (Tuesday 10 January) will limit the disruption caused by industrial action, by mandating that vital public services must maintain a basic function and deliver minimum safety levels during industrial action.

Kate adds: “We don’t yet know when this proposed bill could come into force, but it could substantially change the way industries strike, and the impact that strike action has on the wider community.

“For instance, failure to adhere to the minimum service level will mean the strike is illegal and, as such, would see employers able to sue unions for damages. Those who participate in unlawful strikes would also lose protection against dismissal and could potentially face action for breach of contract.

“It’s an unprecedented time for many of us in the world of work and more important than ever for all employers to monitor the ever-changing situation. I would advise all employers to stay abreast of any governmental developments to ensure that they can provide effective support to employees whilst maintaining business operations as efficiently as possible.”