Employment relations within the UK are turbulent with high levels of disputes and strike action: CIPD Level 7 Assignment, UK


Employment relations within the UK are turbulent with high levels of disputes and strike action. Evaluate the opportunities for and barriers to HR sustaining effective employment relationships during these turbulent times. 

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This question focuses on collective employment relations and, particularly, ER in unionised workplaces where high levels of industrial action are currently being experienced. There is a specific reference in the question to ‘turbulent times’, so strong answers will include some reflection on this expression and the suggestion it carries that the current situation is likely to be short-term.

There are some grounds for optimism here as the main cause of the current wave of industrial action is high inflation with its severe knock-on effect on the cost of living. Some of the causes of the inflation are potentially temporary in nature, particularly the increases in fuel and food prices caused by the Ukraine War and policy responses to it, and the tendency of consumer spending to rise in the aftermath of a pandemic in which many were able to pay down debt and build up savings.

Other causes, however, may be longer term, particularly tight labour markets that are pushing up wages. Time will tell. In any event strong answers need to reflect with some credibility on the background to the current employee relations challenges, particularly in the public sector, as well as discussing the best ways of approaching these challenges from a management perspective.

Mention may also be made potentially of the government’s Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill / Act which will, once fully in force, provide further unpredictable context in this area of HR activity. The key barriers are clearly those created by these ‘turbulent time’ during which trust has been lost and goodwill built up over time dissipated to an extent.

Adversarial industrial relations, as measured by metrics such as days lost to strike action, has become more common after decades in which they have been in retreat. The opportunities therefore relate primarily to planning for a less turbulent time in the future.

As far as possible constructive relationships need to be maintained both with employees and any trade union or staff association personnel who represent them. Regular meetings are important at which consultation continues about other matters which is genuine.

It is also always important not to let disputes over pay and conditions of employment to become personal. Angry clashes which will damage personal relationships should be avoided. Good humour and understanding of the reasons different sides take up their positions is important.

Concessions should be made where possible on both sides and the aim of negotiations should always remain attaining a win-win outcome over the long term. The opportunities thus involve thinking about the long-term and looking to build / rebuild high-trust employment relationships both collectively and individually.

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