In 2010, 365,300 working days were lost in the UK from 92 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. In 2010 strike action between the public and private sectors were evenly spread, with 47 strikes coming from the public sector and a further 45 from the private sector. Although the number of strikes in the public and private sectors were very similar, the number of working days lost was much larger in the public sector. This can be attributed to the large public sector strike in March 2010. The article analyses the three main measures of labour disputes; working days lost, stoppages and workers involved - by industry, region, cause, size and duration. The statistics are put into context by considering estimates of working days lost per 1,000 employees and working time lost through strikes as a proportion of time actually worked. This year’s article will present data on a Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) 2007 basis and will not include comparisons of previous classifications, unlike last year’s. Data is taken from a number of sources including regular centralised returns from some organisations and public bodies, as well as directly from the employer or trade union involved, which are identified from press reports.
In 2010 there were 365,300 working days lost in the UK from 92 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. The disputes were split evenly across both public and private sectors, with 47 in the public sector and 45 in the private sector. This article analyses the disputes by industry, region, cause, size and duration, and also compares the 2010 figures with previous years.
This article presents final figures on labour disputes for 2010 and analyses the figures in more depth than the provisional estimates published as part of monthly Labour Market Statistical Bulletin.
A comparison of statistics on labour disputes in 2009 and 2010 is shown in Table 1. There are three core components to the figures in this table: the number of working days lost through stoppages, the number of workers involved in those stoppages and the total number of stoppages. (See technical note for more details of these definitions)
|Working days lost through stoppages||2009||2010|
|In progress in year a||455,200||365,300|
|Beginning in year||455,100||362,700|
|Workers involved in stoppages|
|In progress in yearb,c||208,500||132,500|
|Beginning in yearc||208,500||131,600|
|In progress in year||98||92|
|Beginning in year||97||90|
The 2010 total of 365,300 working days lost is lower than the 2009 total (455,200). The 2010 total is also lower than the average number of working days lost per year in the 1990s (660,000) and considerably lower than the average for both the 1980s (7.2 million) and the 1970s (12.9 million) where industrial action was at a very high level across the UK due to the large numbers of strike action.
The 92 stoppages total in 2010 is lower than the 2009 total of 98. For the second year running this is a new record low since comparable figures began. There were two stoppages beginning in 2009 which continued into 2010. The number of stoppages has fallen sharply since the 1990s when the average annual number was 273.
There were 132,500 workers involved in labour disputes during 2010, compared with 208,500 in 2009. The number of workers involved is lower than the average number involved in the 1990s (201,600) but considerably below the average in the 1980s (1,040,300).
Table 2 presents labour dispute figures for the period 1991 to 2010 and Figures 1 and 2 illustrate working days lost and the number of stoppages. The high number of days lost in 1996 was due to one very large stoppage in the transport, storage and communication grouping. This shows the impact that large disputes can have on the statistics. This was also evident in both 2002 and 2007 when disputes in transport and storage were double the size of the other striking sectors.
|Year||Working days lost (000s)||Working days lost per 1,000 employees a||Workers involved (000s)||Stoppages b||Stoppages involving the loss of 100,000 working days or morec|
Both Figures 1 and 2 show a marked decline in strike activity in the 1990s. Figure 2 in particular shows that the number of strikes has been on a downward trend over the last 20 years.
The second column of Table 2 shows working days lost per 1,000 employees for each year from 1991 to 2010. This is the standard method that is used to convert working days lost into a strike rate, taking into account the size of the labour force. This also enables comparisons to be made across industries and regions that differ in size.
Although the number of employee jobs has not changed dramatically over the last 20 years, the rates for the UK as a whole show the same pattern of general decline. Occasional peaks can be seen on the working days lost series due to the reasons mentioned earlier regarding large scale strikes. The 365,300 working days lost in 2010 is equivalent to 14 working days lost per 1,000 employees.
An alternative way of putting labour dispute statistics into a wider context is to consider working time lost through strikes as a proportion of time actually worked. In 2010 an estimated 41,300 million hours were worked in the UK. Comparing this to the 2.8 million hours lost through strikes shows that approximately one in every 14,500 potential working days were lost through strikes in 2010. The equivalent figure for 2009 was one in every 11,600.
Historically employees from certain industries have been more likely to take industrial action than others and breaking the labour disputes statistics down into separate industries can reveal some interesting patterns that shift 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 small stoppages are excluded from the figures, it is more likely that industry groups with large firms will have disputes included in the statistics.
Table 3 shows labour dispute statistics for 2010 broken down into 12 industrial groups (classified according to the Standard Industrial Classification 2007) and also show working days lost per 1,000 employees.
Seventy per cent of the working days lost in 2010 were a result of 3 stoppages in public administration and defence, while twenty-one per cent of the days lost were from 25 stoppages in transport, storage, information and communication. There were also 27 stoppages in education, which resulted in 5,400 working days being lost.
Table 4 shows strike rates over time for the mining and energy industries, manufacturing and services sectors as well as construction. Due to the decline of the UK manufacturing industry, the service sector continues to be considerably higher than manufacturing. The mining and energy rate, which can be erratic, has levelled out in recent years.
It is worth noting that, due to the recent changes in standard industrial classification (SIC) both water and waste collection are now included in services, this was previously in mining and energy, so comparisons should be made with caution. It is also worth noting however, that the employment in both mining and manufacturing has dropped dramatically over the last decade.
Figure 3 shows the strike rates for the manufacturing and services sectors separately for the period between 2001 and 2010. This chart depicts that the service sector has a larger strike rate per 1,000 employees when compared to the manufacturing industry. In each of the last ten years the strike rate in the service sector has been higher than that of the manufacturing sector. Although this is the case, the figures are generally high due to large strikes in the public administration and transport sectors.
|Mining and energy||Manufacturing||Services||Construction||All industries and services|
|SIC2003 - 2001||141||11||22||8||20|
|SIC2007 - 2008||0||3||34||2||29|
Table 5 shows regional strike rates at the Government Office Region level between 2006 and 2010, with a further breakdown of the figures for 2010 by industry group (SIC07). When interpreting these figures, it is important to bear in mind that the industrial composition of employment in a region is a major influencing factor on the scale of labour disputes it experiences.
Having noted this point, the region with the highest number of working days lost per thousand employee jobs in 2010 was the North East with 31. This year half of the regions saw a decrease in their strike rates compared to 2009 with West Midlands remaining the same at 6. Last years highest Yorkshire and the Humber showed the sharpest fall from 61 in 2009 to 14 in 2010.
Table 6 shows stoppages in 2010 by principal cause and industry group and Table 7 provides a time series of working days lost by cause. Figure 4 illustrates the number of working days lost in 2010 by principal cause of dispute. In 2010, eighty-six per cent of working days lost were due to disputes over the threat of redundancy, although this only accounted for 23 per cent of all stoppages.
The majority of strikes were again over pay with 52 per cent of strikes occurring in this cause. It should be noted that disputes over pay also include stoppages over feared or alleged reductions in earnings as well as disputes over pay increases.
|Wage disputes||Other Causes|
|Year||Wage rates and earnings levels||Extra wage and fringe benefits||Total||Duration and pattern of hours worked||Redun- dancy questions||Trade union matters||Working conditions and supervision||Staffing and work allocation||Dismissal and other disciplinary||Thousands All causes|
Figure 5 shows the distribution of working days lost by cause in each year from 2001 to 2010 for four causes; pay, redundancy, staffing & work allocation and other. This shows the percentage of days lost due to disputes over redundancy increased again in 2010.
The figures are often dominated by one or two very large strikes which will, in turn, dominate all of the detailed analyses and can make comparisons over time difficult. Looking back over a ten year period it is clear to see that pay often dominates the days lost within the UK although this appears to be changing with redundancy now dominating the figures.
Labour disputes statistics cover the number of days that strike action took place, not the number of days the parties involved in the dispute were actually in disagreement.
Table 8 shows the duration of the stoppages in progress in 2010 and this information is also displayed in Figure 6. Some 39 per cent of stoppages lasted just one day, involved just 5,400 workers and accounted for just 1 per cent of the total working days lost. At the other extreme, 6 stoppages lasted 3 days, involved a total of 91,800 workers and accounted for 71 per cent of the total working days lost.
|Working days lost (000s) b,c,d||Proportion of all working days lost (%)||Workers involved (000s) c||Proportion of all workers (%)||Stoppages in progress||Proportion of all stoppages (%)|
Table 9 shows disputes in 2010 by size and Figure 7 illustrates that a large proportion of days lost result from larger stoppages, with very few stoppages being large. The chart shows that 70 per cent of working days lost in 2010 resulted from stoppages where more than 50,000 days were lost in total, but only 1 per cent of stoppages were that large.
There were only 4 stoppages with more than 5,000 but less than 50,000 working days lost, these stoppages accounted for only 4 per cent of all stoppages. The highest proportion of stoppages was within the under 250 days category, accounting for 55 per cent of all stoppages, although this category recorded the lowest working days lost percentage of just over 1 per cent.
|Working days lost (000s)a||Proportion of all working days lost (%)||Workers involved (000s)a||Proportion of all workers (%)||Stoppages in progress||Proportion of all stoppages (%)|
|Working days lost in each dispute|
|Under 250 days||4.7||1.3||3.3||2.5||51||55.4|
|250 and under 500||4.8||1.3||3.5||2.7||15||16.3|
|500 and under 1,000||5.3||1.5||2.8||2.1||7||7.6|
|1,000 and under 5,000||23.0||6.3||8.6||6.5||14||15.2|
|5,000 and under 25,000||36.8||10.1||14.4||10.8||3||3.3|
|25,000 and under 50,000||34.1||9.3||9.0||6.8||1||1.1|
|50,000 days and over||256.6||70.2||91.0||68.7||1||1.1|
Figures 8a and 8b illustrate the breakdown of working days lost and the number of stoppages between the public and private sectors. The figures are also shown in Table 10. The number of working days lost in the public sector fell again from 367,600 in 2009 to 313,100 in 2010. The proportion of working days lost from the public sector has risen for the first time in three years; from 81 per cent in 2009 to 86 per cent in 2010.
Recent years percentages have brought the public sector figures more in line with the last ten years after a two year peak, with the 2007 percentage of 96 per cent being a high since data was recorded in 1996.
|Year||Working days lost (000s)||Stoppagesa||Strike rate|
In the private sector 52,200 days were lost in 45 stoppages which accounts for only 14 per cent of all days lost in 2010. This compares to 87,600 days lost in 2009 from 49 stoppages which accounted for 19 per cent of all days lost. The number of stoppages in the public and private sectors have remained broadly similar over the years, although the public sector sees more large scale strikes, making the working days lost figures much greater in this sector.
The number of stoppages in the public and private sectors is evenly spread again this year; with 51 per cent in the public sector and 49 in the private sector. Generally, the breakdowns of stoppages between the public and private sectors have been fairly consistent. Although in 2007 the public sector dominated the strike statistics to a greater extent than the private sector.
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Information regarding labour disputes within the UK is collected by ONS from a variety of sources. Certain major industries and public bodies provide regular centralised returns but more often the information is collected directly from the employer or trade union involved after ONS have been notified of a dispute from press reports.
Up until September 1996, this information was collected by the Employment Service local office network on behalf of ONS. ONS publishes figures on labour disputes each month. They appear monthly as part of the Labour Market Statistical Bulletin and all other publications, guidance and methodology documents are available on the Labour Disputes topic page.
The statistics cover stoppages of work in progress in the UK during a year caused by labour disputes between employers and workers, or between workers and other workers, connected with terms and conditions of employment. A distinction can be drawn between stoppages that started in the current year and those that started in earlier years.
The statistics exclude disputes that do not result in a stoppage of work, for example work-to-rules and go-slows; this is because their effects are not quantifiable to any degree of certainty. Stoppages involving fewer than 10 workers or lasting less than one day are also excluded unless the total number of working days lost in the dispute is 100 or more.
Stoppages over issues not directly linked to terms and conditions between workers and employers are omitted, although in most years this is not significant. For example, in 1986 one stoppage was considered to be political (a protest in the coal industry against the visit of an MP) and it was excluded from the figures.
The total working days lost amounted to less than 1,000. The next known dispute to be excluded was in 1991. This involved a boycott by self-employed market traders who, after increased rent and changes to the market rules, kept their stalls closed for about 20 weeks.
The statistics include ‘lock-outs’, i.e. where an employer prevents their employees from working by refusing entry to the place of work, and ‘unlawful’, i.e. unlawfully organised strikes. However, no distinction is made between a ‘strike’ and a ‘lock-out’ or between ‘lawful’ and ‘unlawful’ stoppages.
This is principally because of the practical difficulty in deciding which category a particular stoppage falls into. It was for similar reasons that a distinction between ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ disputes was no longer made after 1981.
Working days lost are defined as the number of days not worked by people involved in a dispute at their place of work. In measuring the number of working days lost, account is taken only of the time lost in the basic working week. Overtime work is excluded, as is weekend working where it is not a regular practice. Where an establishment is open every day, and runs two or more shifts, the statistics will record the number of working days lost for each shift.
In recording the number of days lost, allowance is made for public and known annual holidays, such as factory fortnights, occurring within the strike's duration. No allowance is made for absence from work for such reasons as sickness and unauthorised leave.
Where strikes last less than the basic working day, the hours lost are converted to full-day equivalents. Similarly, days lost by part-time workers are converted to full-day equivalents. The number of working days lost in a stoppage reflects the actual number of workers involved at each point in the stoppage.
This is generally less than the total derived by multiplying the duration of the stoppage by the total number of workers involved at any time during the stoppage, because some workers would not have been involved throughout.
In disputes where employers dismiss their employees and subsequently reinstate them, the working days lost figure includes those days lost by workers during the period of dismissal.
For disputes where employers dismiss their employees and replace them with another workforce the statistics cannot assume that working days lost by the sacked workers continue indefinitely. In such cases the statistics measure the number of days lost in terms of the size of the replacement workforce.
For example, where an employer initially recruits 100 workers and wishes to build up to 300, the number of working days lost on day one will be 200 and will then progressively reduce on subsequent days, eventually to zero when the new workforce reaches the target of 300.
There are difficulties in ensuring complete recording of stoppages, in particular for short disputes lasting only a day or so, or involving only a few workers. Because of this recording difficulty and the cut-off applied, the number of working days lost is considered to be a better indicator of the impact of labour disputes than the number of recorded stoppages.
The figures for workers involved are for workers both directly and indirectly involved at the establishment where the dispute occurred. Workers indirectly involved are those who are not themselves parties to the dispute but are unable to work because of the dispute. However, the statistics exclude workers at other sites who are indirectly affected (because of a shortage of material from a supplier who is in dispute, for example).
This is partially because of the difficulty in deciding to what extent a particular firm’s production problems are due to the effects of a strike elsewhere or some other cause. Workers involved in more than one stoppage during the year are counted in the statistics for each stoppage in which they take part. Part-time workers are counted as whole units.
The statistics try to record the number of workers that are involved at any time in the stoppage. For example, consider a three-day strike where there were 200 workers involved on the first day; 300 on the second day, of whom 100 were involved for the first time; and 200 on the third day, of whom 50 were involved for the first time.
The total number of workers involved in the dispute is 350 - the sum of all those involved on the first day, and those joining for the first time on subsequent days. However, the number of workers taking strike action for the first time during a dispute cannot always be easily ascertained. In such cases the statistics record the highest number involved at any one time (300 in the above example).
Take another example, where there are 200 workers involved in a stoppage on each of days one, two and three. It may be necessary to assume that there were a total of 200 workers involved, although it is possible, but unlikely, that as many as 600 workers could have been involved. For this reason, the statistics may under-estimate the number of workers involved in a dispute. However, the estimate of the number of working days lost is unaffected by this consideration.