Thursday, February 07, 2013

All quiet on the workplace front?

The first findings of the sixth Workplace Employee Relations Survey (WERS)( includes data on conflict in the workplace, and has this to say about strike action;

"The proportion of workplaces that etyxperienced industrial action was higher in 2011 than in 2004; however, this rise can be attributed primarily to the increase in strikes in the public sector .The large-scale strikes in the public sector led to a quadrupling of these workplaces reporting strikes. In contrast, the rate of strikes in the private sector, and other industrial action such as non-strike action and threats to take action across all workplaces were similar in 2011 and 2004."

Across the whole survey, 4% of all workplaces reported strike action in the past year in 2011, compared to 1% in 2004. However, the workplaces experiencing strike action comprised 1% of all private sector workplaces and 27% of all public sector workplaces.

This data, reflecting the nature of WERS as a snapshot, may be recording what has so far been the high water mark of public sector industrial action against the Government's austerity measures, given that in the twelve months to November 2012 only 250,000 working days were lost to strike action (

That is to say, in the whole year that followed the strike action on 30 November 2011, the sum total of all the officially recorded strike action was perhaps a quarter of the action which took place on that single day.

What WERS says about individual disputes is, perhaps, more informative; "The percentage of workplaces where an employee raised a grievance in the 12 months prior to the survey decreased from 38% in 2004 to 30% in 2011."

I think this substantiates the hypothesis that individual grievances will become less frequent in a time of recession and job losses, whether because workers wishing to keep their jobs are more likely to keep their heads down, or because those who are unhappy will opt for redundancy when the opportunity arises.

As I blogged a few days ago ( WERS also reports that "around one in eight workplaces (13%) had made staff redundant in the 12 months prior to the 2011 survey (compared with 9% in 2004)." However the threat to jobs in a recession casts a long shadow, so workers beyond that 13% of workplaces feel the uncertainty.

When the full report of WERS is published later in the year it may be possible to dig further into what this data is telling us about workplace conflict, but qualifying the relative increase in strike action between 2004 and 2011 with more recent labour market statistics, and considering it alongside the evidence on individual grievances, the plausible conclusion I would draw is that workplace conflict is at a low ebb.

Given what is happening in many of our workplaces (pay freezes, redundancies and a ceaseless intensification of work) this is not an encouraging conclusion to have to draw, but if we didn't have pessimism of the intellect whatever would be the point of our optimism of the will?

Sent using BlackBerry® from Orange

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