In 2011, 1,389,700 working days were lost in the UK from 149 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. In 2011 there were 88 stoppages in the public sector compared with 61 in the private sector after a fairly even split in the number of disputes in 2010. The article presents analysis of 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. Data are taken from a number of sources including regular centralised returns from some industries and public bodies, as well as directly from the employer or trade union involved after ONS has identified disputes from press reports.
This article gives information on labour disputes by industry, region, cause, size and duration as well as comparing the 2011 figures with previous years. The article presents year total figures on labour disputes for 2011 and provides a more in-depth analysis of the figures than that published as part of the monthly Labour Market Statistical Bulletin.
In 2011, 1,389,700 working days were lost in the UK from 149 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. The days lost figure is the highest since 1990 (1,903,000) while the stoppages figure is the highest since 2006 (158). The number of strikes in the public sector in 2011 is almost double that in 2010, with 88 in 2011 compared with 47 in 2010. There were 61 strikes in the private sector in 2011.
A comparison of statistics on labour disputes in 2010 and 2011 is shown in Table 1. There are three core components to the figures: the number of working days lost through stoppages, the number of workers involved in those stoppages and the number of stoppages. (See technical note for more details on these definitions).
|Working days lost through stoppages|
|In progress in year||365,300||1,389,700|
|Beginning in year||362,700||1,384,100|
|Workers involved in stoppages|
|in progress in year||132,500||1,529,600|
|Of which: directly involved||132,500||1,511,400|
|Beginning in year||131,600||1,526,900|
|Of which: directly involved||131,600||1,508,700|
|In progress in year||92||149|
|Beginning in year||90||139|
The 2011 total of 1,389,700 working days lost is significantly higher than the 2010 total (365,300), which is largely attributable to a small number of large scale public sector strikes in 2011. The 2011 total is also considerably higher than the average number of working days lost per year in the 2000’s (662,000) and 1990s (660,000). These averages show that days lost figures have been steady over the past 20 years. However, the 2011 figure is considerably lower than the average for the 1980s (7.2 million) as well as previous decades, when industrial action was more common.
The 149 stoppages total in 2011 is higher than the 2010 total of 92. The number of stoppages is in line with the average from the 2000s (142) but considerably down on the 1990s when the average annual number was 273. There were 10 stoppages beginning in 2010 which continued into 2011.
There were 1,529,600 workers involved in labour disputes during 2011; almost 12 times the amount that were involved in 2010 (132,500). The number of workers involved is higher than the average number involved in the 2000s (378,000), 1990s (201,600) and 1980s (1,040,300).
Table 2 presents labour dispute figures for the period 1992 to 2011, while Figures 1 and 2 illustrate working days lost and the number of stoppages respectively. Although the number of working days lost has remained broadly flat over this period, there are a number of spikes in the time series in years where a particularly large strike took place. The high number of days lost in 2002 was due to one very large stoppage in the transport and storage industry. Similarly in 1996 and 2007, disputes in transport and storage were double the size of the other striking sectors. This shows the impact that large disputes can have on the statistics.
|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 more|
Although Figure 1 shows that the levels of working days lost have not changed significantly over this period, Figure 2 shows a marked decline in strike activity in the 2000s. This indicates that although the number of stoppages appears to be reducing, large scale stoppages are becoming more common.
The second column of Table 2 shows working days lost per 1,000 employees for each year from 1992 to 2011. 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 first 15 years of the table, employment in the UK for the past five years has started to fall, which has the effect of increasing the rate.
The 1,389,700 working days lost in 2011 is equivalent to 53 working days lost per 1,000 employees. This is the highest since 1996.
An alternative way of putting labour disputes statistics into a wider context is to consider working time lost through strikes as a proportion of time actually worked. In 2011 an estimated 47,500 million hours were worked in the UK.
Comparing this with the 2.8 million hours lost through strikes shows that approximately one in every 4,400 potential working days were lost through strikes in 2011. The equivalent figure for 2010 was one in every 14,500.
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 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 (33 Kb Excel sheet) shows labour dispute statistics for 2011 broken down into 12 industrial groups (classified according to the Standard Industrial Classification 2007). Education accounted for 53 per cent of the working days lost in 2011 from 61 stoppages, while 32 per cent of the days lost were from 19 stoppages in public administration. Education saw the largest number of stoppages reflecting a number of issues including job cuts, pay disputes and the increasing number of schools given academy status.
Table 4 shows working days lost per 1,000 employees for four industrial groupings over a ten year period. The rate for the service sector has increased significantly in 2011 which is attributable to the large scale industrial action in the public sector, which contains a large proportion of organisations in the service sector. The strike rate in construction has also shown a large increase.
The strike rate in the mining and energy sector remains at zero, while the strike rate for manufacturing also remained stable at four. The all industries strike rate is at its highest level since 1996 (55). Figure 3 shows the strike rates for the manufacturing and services sectors separately for the period between 2002 and 2011. This chart shows that the service sector has a larger strike rate per 1,000 employees than the manufacturing sector in each of the last ten years. This is generally due to large strikes in the public administration and transport sectors.
|Mining and energy||Manufacturing||Services||Construction||All industries and services|
|SIC2003 - 2002||1||6||62||13||51|
|SIC2007 - 2008||0||3||34||2||29|
Table 5 (38 Kb Excel sheet) shows regional strike rates between 2007 and 2011, with a further breakdown of the figures for 2011 by industrial grouping. 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.
The region with the highest number of working days lost per thousand employee jobs in 2011 was Wales with 109, a significant increase on last year’s highest, which was the North East (31), a region that again presents a high number in 2011 at 103. In all, every region showed an increase when compared to 2010. All but two regions showed a five year high, with East of England and London as the exceptions.
Table 6 (37.5 Kb Excel sheet) shows stoppages in 2011 by principal cause and industry grouping. In 2011, 95 per cent of working days lost were due to disputes over pay, with pay also accounting for 48 per cent of all stoppages. A further 36 per cent of stoppages came from disputes over possible redundancies. The high proportion of working days lost over pay disputes is skewed by large strikes in the public sector.
Variations in the cause of the strike can be seen when considering the results broken down by industry. For example, most working days lost in construction were over redundancies. 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.
Figure 4 and Table 7 give information on working days lost by cause in each year from 2002 to 2011 for four causes; pay, redundancy, staffing & work allocation and other. This shows the percentage of days lost due to disputes over pay increased considerably in 2011 (1,327,400), the highest numbers lost to pay since 1989 (3,290,000).
The figures are often dominated by one or two very large strikes which 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 appeared to be changing with redundancy dominating the figures in both 2009 and 2010. However, large strikes in the public sector in 2011 have meant that pay disputes are again at the forefront of industrial action.
|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||All causes (Thousands)|
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 2011 and this information is also displayed in Figure 5. This shows the majority of stoppages (54 per cent) lasted just one day, involved 1,471,700 workers and accounted for 93 per cent of the total working days lost. This is a reflection of how a small number of large disputes can have a huge effect on the statistics.
|Working days lost (000s)||Proportion of all working days lost (%)||Workers involved (000s)||Proportion of all workers (%)||Stoppages in progress||Proportion of all stoppages (%)|
Table 9 shows disputes in 2011 by size and Figure 6 illustrates that a large proportion of days lost result from larger stoppages, with very few stoppages actually being large. The chart shows that 90 per cent of working days lost in 2011 resulted from stoppages where more than 50,000 days were lost in total, but only 2 per cent of stoppages were that large. The highest proportion of stoppages was within the ‘under 250 days’ category, accounting for 56 per cent of all stoppages, although this category recorded the lowest working days lost percentage of just 1 per cent.
|Working days lost (000s)||Proportion of all working days lost (%)||Workers involved (000s)||Proportion of all workers (%)||Stoppages in progress||Proportion of all stoppages (%)|
|Working days lost in each dispute|
|Under 250 days||7.7||0.6||6.3||0.4||84||56.4|
|250 and under 500||8.2||0.6||7.1||0.5||25||16.8|
|500 and under 1,000||9.0||0.6||4.1||0.3||12||8.1|
|1,000 and under 5,000||37.1||2.7||37.0||2.4||19||12.8|
|5,000 and under 25,000||36.7||2.6||13.1||0.9||5||3.4|
|25,000 and under 50,000||40.2||2.9||34.1||2.2||1||0.7|
|50,000 days and over||1250.7||90.0||1427.9||93.4||3||2.0|
The figures for working days lost and workers involved have been rounded and consequently the sum of the constituent items may not agree with the totals
Figures 7a and 7b 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 rose from 313,100 in 2010 to 1,276,200 in 2011, the first time this has shown a year-on-year increase since 2007.
The proportion of working days lost from the public sector has increased for the second year in succession, from 86 per cent in 2010 to 92 per cent in 2011. The public sector figure for 2011 is a record high since comparable records began in 1996, and this is the third time in ten years that the days lost in the public sector has exceeded one million.
|Year||Working days lost (000s)||Stoppagesa||Strike rateb|
In the private sector 113,500 days were lost in 61 stoppages which accounts for only 8 per cent of all days lost in 2011. This compares with 52,200 days lost in 2010 from 45 stoppages which accounted for 14 per cent of all days lost. The 2011 days lost figure is the highest since 2004.
The gap in the number of stoppages in the public and private sectors has widened in 2011, with 59 per cent in the public sector and 41 per cent in the private sector. Generally, the number of breakdowns of stoppages between the public and private sectors has been fairly consistent, despite the far greater proportion of working days lost in the public sector.
Annual trade union ballot data for the period 2002 – 2011 is presented in Tables 11a and 11b. The number of ballots  has risen significantly this year to 994. This compares with 579 in 2010.
|Year||Total ballots||Ballots calling for 'strike action'||Ballots voting FOR strike action||Ballots voting AGAINST strike action||Split result|
|Year||Total Number of ballots||Ballots calling for 'action short of a strike'||Ballots voting FOR action short of a strike||Ballots voting AGAINST action short of strike||Split result|
The number of ballots calling for ‘action short of a strike’ in 2011 shows a decrease for the third year in succession at 388. Proportionately this figure is much lower than in previous years (39 per cent of all ballots in 2011 compared with 71 per cent in 2010). The proportion of those ballots resulting in a ‘yes’ vote has remained stable and in line with the ballots calling for strike action.
The ten year time series for trade union ballots is illustrated in Figure 8. It can be seen that the trend for ballots voting for strike action closely follows the trends for the number of ballots calling for strike action and the total number of ballots. This chart shows that a high percentage of ballots calling for strike action do result in ‘yes’ votes, with 88 per cent in 2011 and an average of 85 per cent over the past ten years.
As the majority of ballots include options for both ‘strike action’ and ‘action short of strike action,’ the total number of ballots does not equal the total of these options added together.
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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 identified disputes from press reports. ONS publishes figures on labour disputes each month. They appear in the Labour Market Statistical Bulletin and other publications, guidance and methodological 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 in which category a particular stoppage falls. 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 as a result of their involvement 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.
ONS aims 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.