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Lost working days for employers - not such a mystery

Lost working days for employers - not such a mystery

On 30 November 2011 thousands of public sector workers took part in strike action in protest against cuts to public sector pensions.  In figures released on 18 January 2012 the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimated that in November 2011 alone almost 1 million working days were lost due to labour disputes, largely as a result of the strike action on that day. With the further ONS announcement that unemployment figures are at their highest since 1995 and with austerity measures continually being announced, it is anticipated that there will be further public sector strike action in 2012.

In addition, 2012 may see strike action spreading further into the private sector. Currently, staff at Unilever are striking in relation to changes to their final salary pension scheme and with the ageing population, coupled with the introduction of pension reforms later this year, we may well see further private sector strikes.

The Unilever strike is unlikely to have a huge & lsquo;knock on’ effect for those employed in other industries (apart from the potential shortage of PG Tips!). This can be contrasted with the public sector strikes which took place in November 2011. Not only were thousands of public sector workers striking which contributed to the reported days lost, but employees in other industries were also forced to take time off from work or to accommodate the disruption as a result – for example to care for their children as a result of the number of school closures. This has huge implications not only for employers but also for the economy itself, with the loss of revenue and business.

An employee is not automatically entitled to paid time off to look after children in this sort of situation.  There is a statutory right to time off for dependents (in emergencies) but the statutory right does not bring with it any right to payment. Therefore, employers would have had to consider whether, at their discretion or in accordance with their own policies, to pay staff during any such absence, require staff to take it as holiday or to refuse to pay staff for the day of missed work. These problems have a magnified effect on small businesses, which may already be under financial strain in the current climate. The question of how to deal with workers who take strike action is of course a separate, additional matter which is subject to much greater regulation and no doubt is a major concern for those employers affected by, or anticipating, strike action.


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