Recent figures show a sharp jump in the number of working days lost to strike action in the private sector
Private sector strike days up 80% in a year to 149,000, but are even more being lost to informal action via WhatsApp?
The number of private sector working days lost to strike action is up by 80% in a year, to 149,000 days in 2016/17* from 83,000 in 2015/16. This is more than double the number of working days lost to strikes in the public sector, which decreased by 69% over the same period to 72,000 from 231,000.
However, relatively new smartphone communications apps, most notably WhatsApp, mean staff do not necessarily need union organisation to go on ‘strike’, work to rule or to coordinate sickness absence. As a result the total number of days lost is likely to be even higher than official statistics show, as employees can use messaging services to organise collective action independently. This can include calling in sick en masse or coordinating taking unscheduled days off.
During the ongoing dispute over driverless trains, Southern Rail saw high rates of sick leave, with conductors calling in sick over 1,000 times in just one month in 2016. Industry sources dubbed the so-called ‘sick-note strike’ unofficial industrial action.
Recently, Ryanair pilots used WhatsApp to privately discuss what working practices and conditions they wanted to see changed at the airline.
Jon Taylor, Principal at EMW, comments: “The public sector has traditionally been worst hit by strikes, but the private sector is now a key battleground. As well as the numbers of official strikes days spiralling, employers need to watch out for the rising ‘hidden’ threat of unofficial collective action by disgruntled employees. Today, it is so easy for the ‘WhatsApp generation’ to organise a strike without the help of a union or even declaring it publically. Group messaging portals like WhatsApp and Viber can be a hotbed for complaints and dissent to escalate, which can damage and worsen staff morale.”
The latest strike figures suggest that organised strikes are going on for longer, as both the overall number of strikes and numbers of workers involved have gone down.
The number of stoppages has decreased 4% from 162 to 156 in the past year, and the total number of workers involved has dropped to 75,000, down 68% from 234,000 in the previous year. The wave of strikes by conductors on Southern Rail in the previous year is a key factor as prolonged strike actions often continue for several days.
Jon continues: “Industrial disputes are now becoming more entrenched. Public sector strikes tend to involve large numbers of workers for short bursts of time, such as the junior doctors strike. However, what we are seeing now is smaller numbers of workers holding out for longer.”
*Year end July 31st
Number of working days lost in the private sector – up 80% in a year
If you would like further information on this topic, please get in touch with Jon Taylor.