Jayne Harrison: How to mitigate strike action

Jayne Harrison

Union strikes have a significant impact on business performance and reputation. The walkout by British Airways pilots in September 2019, for example, cost the organisation up to £100 million, affected almost 200,000 passengers and grounded the majority of British Airways’ flights around the world. 

Striking is a type of industrial action, making it legal when employees conduct their strike through a union and its officials; they happen in response to work disputes and always require notice to the employer before they can take place. 

With striking a hot topic right now, it is important to discuss suitable methods employers can adopt to mitigate actions before they reach this point. By understanding the scale of the issue before it reaches breaking point, employers stand in better stead to resolve union disputes. 

An employer must understand the underlying reason for strike action. Talking to staff directly can give an accurate representation of the workforce and ensure the organisation’s position is accurately portrayed. The repercussions of damage to the firm’s reputation, and how this can endanger employees’ livelihoods should also be outlined. 

If employees do strike, the organisation should seek legal action in support of the case. Employers must create a contingency plan to ensure the business can continue functioning on the strike day; it is illegal to have staff supplied from an employment agency to take on tasks for those who are striking, which means it is important to be strategic when planning. 

Providing management with training to perform the tasks of striking employees is acceptable, as well as using employees from a recruitment agencies who will be employed on short-term basis; however, this would involve the agency charging the employer an introducer’s fee. These methods can be adopted by employers to avoid disruption to the business functioning, but the ideal result is always to resolve a dispute using common ground to avoid damaging the organisation’s reputation. 

Negotiating with employees and the union is key to resolving a workplace dispute. Striking is a last resort where employees feel they have few other options. As an employer, having legal representation can ensure a wrong move is not taken during the industrial action. 

Jayne Harrison is partner and head of employment law at Richard Nelson