Strikes to Cause a Summer of Discontent: What Action Should Employers Take?

Britain is braced for a summer of discontent as transport workers in National Rail, Transport for London and Heathrow Airport threaten strike action over pay. Industrial disputes in the UK are at their highest rates in five years as inflation hits pay packets across almost every sector. 

What if it is your employees decide to strike? What can employers do?

  • Plan Ahead: As soon as the business is aware of potential industrial action, you must undertake all necessary precautions and plan ahead to prepare for any disruptions to your business. If an employee breaks a contract of service knowingly or has reasonable cause to believe it will jeopardise human life, the possibility to cause serious injury or the destruction of property, they will be committing a criminal offence.
  • Communicate with employees (where non-unionised): Employers should avoid industrial action where possible to prevent interruption to their organisation. If the employees are not part of a union talk to and consult employees, call a meeting to allow your employees to feel heard and air any grievances. Reaching a compromise with your employees can be beneficial for both parties involved. If there is a recognised trade union however, you must go through them and attempting to communicate with employees directly could be considered unlawful and leave your business facing fines. 
  • Withhold Pay: An employer is entitled to withhold payment for each day of strike action from those deemed to be on strike. You should only deduct the amount that the employee would have earned during the strike. You cannot deduct an employee's pay if they were not supposed to be working on the day of the strike. 
  • Refuse to accept Partial Performance: Partial performance is where an employee takes action short of a strike and refuses to carry out part of their contractual work. If employers decide they do not want to accept partial performance, they do not have to pay employees as long as they tell employees that they should only attend work if they fulfil their contractual duties and failing to do so will result in their pay being withheld from them. If you do accept partial performance, you must still pay employees for any work that they have done.

What can't employers do?

  • Dismiss: If employees go on strike, they’re breaching their employment contract. However, this doesn’t mean an employer can dismiss them without the dismissal being classed as unfair. Your right to dismiss striking employees will vary on whether the industrial action is official or unofficial, and whether it’s lawful or not. 

If you need further support relating to strikes, industrial action, or any other HR related issues please contact us. We will be happy to help!