How to handle employee strikes

  • Dispute Resolution
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Peninsula Group, HR and Health & Safety Experts

(Last updated )

How should your business deal with a strike? It can be a difficult issue to manage, but with the right approach you can remain compliant with your employees' rights while solving the issue.

Although strikes come across as old-fashioned in the modern business world, they still occur in many sectors. Strikes can affect a lot of people. Each summer, scores of employees in the airline industry take action and thousands of holidays face disruption. But the main impact is on you—the employer. After all, there’s no reason to strike if employees, and their union, are happy with your practices. When facing the potential walk out of your workforce, you may wonder to go about handling strikes. In this guide, we explain exactly how to do so. As this can be such a serious matter, you can also refer to our employment law services for immediate assistance with a potential strike.

How strikes happen

Over time, employees can become dissatisfied with their role in your business. The issue is often related to pay, but may also relate to perceived unsafe working environments etc. Your workforce may wonder about how to go on strike at work and discuss possible actions with each other prior to making any official plans. But going on strike at work isn’t always a simple process. That can put some off from carrying out their actions. But many other employees think it’s an effective route and will go ahead with it. It places pressure on your business, forcing you to take action. This often leads to meeting the demands of your staff, or making a compromise. As there are strict procedures that unions and employees have to go through to legally strike, it’s likely you’ve heard about the intentions in advance. This means you can plan ahead for any disruption.

How employers can deal with strikes

The straightforward approach is to keep your basic business operations going. Even if every employee is going on strike at work, you can’t employ agency workers to cover the striking positions. What you can do is move current employees into required roles to cover the work of those on strike. You may also be able to use your management teams and other senior staff to get all hands on deck. It’s a good idea to ensure managers are capable, and have training, to carry out alternative roles within the workplace so they can provide cover. If you don’t have sufficiently trained staff, you can permanently hire temporary or fixed-term employees to cover roles. Do note, this may not be the quickest option available. While the action is going ahead—and preferably prior to any strike starting—you may want to speak to customers and clients about it. There may be adverse effects to them they need to be aware of. This is typically the case if there are strikes across industries such as public transport or retail.

What about those who are striking?

It’s clear that employees who don’t turn up to work because they are striking receive no pay. This time out of doesn’t count towards their continuous role with you, although there’s no break in their employment. Maintaining communication is a key part of learning how to handle employee strike action. You can continue speaking to striking staff and encourage them to return to work. This can’t be in the form of pressure, a threat, or by making promises they’ll receive a benefit in some way. Any striking employees who act inappropriately, or in breach of your internal policies, can still face disciplinary action. For example, if a striking employee is bullying or intimidating employees who continue to work, address that as soon as possible. You may also find it useful to remind staff of the rules that are in place about appropriate conduct before the strike takes place.

Course of action after a strike

You’ll need to ensure managers are proactively managing the return of the striking employees. There may be bad feelings between those who did and didn’t strike. And it’s crucial to ensure there’s no negative treatment as a result. How you can deal the issue usually depends on the reason behind the strike and how severe the impacts are. However, it’s good business practice to ensure there are appropriate processes in place to manage your company during periods of industrial action.

Get immediate assistance

 If you’re in need of help right now about a potential strike action against your business, call us for instant help: 0800 028 2420.


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