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Striking public sector workers will quickly lose public sympathy

Striking public sector workers will quickly lose public sympathy if they cause disruption to essential services, says quarterly CIPD survey of employee attitudes

Nearly three quarters of employees (74%) agree that, in light of the tough times endured by private sector staff through the recession, striking public sector workers will quickly lose sympathy if they cause disruption to the general public.

This is one of the headline findings from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Developments (CIPD) latest quarterly Employee Outlook survey. The survey, based on a representative sample of 2,000 UK workers, shows six in ten public sector workers (59%) also believe they will lose support if they cause disruption to the public through strike action.

The survey suggests that, in advance of Wednesdays Comprehensive Spending Review announcement, the working public accepts the overall case for cuts. Almost two thirds of respondents (64%) agree with the statement that these are tough times and the deficit needs to be reduced through cuts to public spending, in contrast to 16% disagreeing. There is a marked difference in sectoral attitudes, with 69% of private sector staff agreeing with this statement compared to only 50% of those in the public sector.

Almost half of public sector workers (49%) agree with the statement workers have to do whats necessary to protect their jobs and if that disrupts public services, thats the price of living in a democratic society, compared to just 27% of those in the private sector.

Overall, just under half of respondents (48%) agree they are more concerned about the damage strikes would cause than about the impact of spending cuts, with 26% disagreeing. More than half (53%) of private sector respondents agree, compared to 36% of public sector staff.

The survey also shows:

Half (49%) of employees agree that most people today are not willing to lose pay to go on strike, rising to 54% among public sector staff

36% of respondents agree unions provide essential protection for employees from bad management

43% of employees agree unions are good at pursuing their own political agendas rather than simply looking after the interests of their members

28% of respondents agree unions are more relevant than ever during a time of recession and increased redundancies

37% of respondents agree that industrial action in essential services should be banned

Mike Emmott, CIPD Employee Relations Adviser, commented: These findings show that it is not just the government that has to tread softly in terms of how spending cuts are implemented. The trade unions too must understand that many private sector employees have already suffered pay freezes or cuts, job losses and cuts to pension entitlement and will be sensitive to any rhetoric by union leaders threatening strike action which does not appear to appreciate the sacrifices already made by those in the private sector.

However, the Government too must understand that it also has a key role to help prevent major public sector disputes though the language it uses and how information and messages are timed and communicated.

The Comprehensive Spending Review announcement will create a lot of anxiety and uncertainty and it is essential that, as the details of job cuts and any changes to pay or pension provision are announced over the next few months, public sector employers are allowed the necessary time to communicate and consult on what changes are being planned, and just as crucially why. People are much more likely to accept tough messages if they are given the right information at the right time and feel that their views have at least been heard and taken into account before decisions are made.

When the private sector went through the recession there were many positive examples of how employers and unions worked together in partnership to keep people in jobs. Examples included making compromises over pay and increases in flexible working, as well as things like extended leave. Partnership working already flourishes in many parts of the public sector but the extent of the changes in the pipeline may well stretch this to the limit in some cases. However, effective partnership between unions and employers can make a powerful contribution to ensuring that the governments public sector reform agenda will be successful.

Other findings from the survey show:

Union members are most likely to support strike action against a reduction in pay, with 8% saying they would strike regardless of whether all other remedies had failed and 41% saying they would strike only if all other remedies had failed.

In all 7% of union members say they would strike regardless of whether all other remedies had failed in protest at plans to reduce their pension entitlement while 35% say they would strike for this reason only if all other remedies had failed.

5% of union members say they would strike regardless of whether all other remedies had failed in protest at plans to cut jobs while 33% say they would strike for this reason only if all other remedies had failed.

3% of union members say they would strike regardless of whether all other remedies had failed in protest at plans to freeze pay while 26% say they would strike for this reason only if all other remedies had failed.

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