• International Workplace
  • 20 June 2017

Labour dispute figures published

The Office for National Statistics has published its annual analysis of UK labour disputes in 2016, including working days lost, stoppages and workers involved.

The number of working days lost due to labour disputes in 2016 was 322,000, which was more than in 2015 (170,000) but the eighth lowest annual total since records began in 1891. This increase in working days lost in 2016, compared with 2015, was partly attributable to a dispute involving junior doctors in the National Health Service in England, which accounted for 129,000 working days lost (around 40% of the total working days lost for 2016)

The two regions with the highest working days lost per 1,000 employees in 2016 were the North East and London.

The private sector saw more stoppages in 2016, but the public sector once again had more working days lost than the private sector.

There were 154,000 workers involved in labour disputes in 2016; this figure is higher than the record low figure of 81,000 recorded for 2015 but low compared to historical levels.

Historically, certain industries have been more prone to strike action than others, and breaking the labour disputes statistics down into separate industries can reveal some interesting patterns and shifts over time. However, it should be noted that comparisons between industries can also be affected by the methodology that is used for compiling the figures. For example, because very small stoppages are excluded from the figures, it is more likely that industry groups with large firms will have disputes included in the statistics. In addition to this, caution must be exercised while carrying out time series analysis due to changes in industrial classifications over time.

Human health and social work was the largest sector in terms of number of working days lost. However, this high figure for working days lost was largely due to a single dispute involving junior doctors in the National Health Service in England. This industrial group only accounted for four out of the 101 strikes recorded for 2016.

In terms of the number of strikes, the largest sectors were transport and storage (23 strikes and 49,100 working days lost) and education (21 strikes and 105,400 working days lost). Strikes in the transport and storage sector mainly occurred within public transport.

In 2016, the main cause of industrial action, in terms of working days lost, was duration and patterns of hours worked, which accounted for 134,800 working days lost (most of these were attributable to the junior doctors dispute).

However, in terms of the number of workers involved, the main cause of industrial action in 2016 was redundancies, which accounted for 86,100 workers (55.9% of all workers involved in industrial action in 2016). The figures are often dominated by one or two very large strikes, which can make comparisons over time difficult.

Looking at the figures from 2007 to 2015, pay was the main cause of disputes in each year except for 2009 and 2010 when, following the economic downturn, redundancies were the main cause. However, the figures for 2016 show a different picture with most disputes being accounted for by causes other than pay or redundancy.

Breaking the figures down by sector, the figures show that between 2007 and 2015, there have been far more working days lost in the public sector than in the private sector, even though the private sector is much larger. The private sector has had fewer working days lost than the public sector in every year since 1999.

Looking at the figures for 2016, there were more working days lost in the public sector (243,000) than the private sector (79,000) but there were more strikes in the private sector (60) than in the public sector (41). In the public sector there were 45 working days lost per 1,000 employees, while in the private sector there were only three working days lost per 1,000 employees.

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