In 2012, 248,800 working days were lost in the UK from 131 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. In 2012 there were 63 stoppages in the public sector compared with 68 in the private sector, which is a return to the fairly even split of recent years, following a large jump in the number of public sector strikes in 2011. This 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 in 2012 by industry, region, cause, size and duration as well as comparing the figures with previous years. The article presents year total figures on labour disputes in 2012, and provides a more in-depth analysis of figures than that published as part of the monthly Labour Market Statistical Bulletin.
In 2012, 248,800 working days were lost in the UK from 131 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. The days lost figure is the lowest figure since 2005 (157,400). The disputes were split fairly evenly across both public and private sectors, with 68 in the private sector and 63 in the public sector, although disputes in the public sector resulted in a larger proportion of working days lost.
A comparison of labour disputes in 2011 and 2012 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). Information on years prior to this is available in the table Labour Disputes Annual Estimates 1891 - 2012, which can be found in the reference tables (60.5 Kb Excel sheet) associated with this article
|Working days lost through stoppages||2011||2012|
|In progress in year||1,389,700||248,800|
|Beginning in year||1,384,100||227,600|
|Workers involved in stoppages|
|in progress in year||1,529,600||236,800|
|Of which: directly involved||1,511,400||235,000|
|Beginning in year||1,526,900||215,900|
|Of which: directly involved||1,508,700||214,000|
|In progress in year||149||131|
|Beginning in year||139||125|
The 2012 total of 248,800 working days lost is significantly lower than the 2011 total (1,389,700), which is largely attributable to a small number of large scale public sector strikes in 2011. The 2012 total is also considerably lower than the average number of working days lost per year in the 2000’s (690,000) and 1990s (660,000), as well as the 1980s (7.2 million) and earlier decades, when industrial action was more common. To give an example of how industrial action has changed over the years, between 1960 and 1989 all but two years saw the 2012 figure for working days lost reached by the end of February (in 1963 and 1989 the figure was reached in April).
The number of stoppages in 2012 (131) is lower than in 2011 (149). The number of stoppages is also slightly lower than the average from the 2000s (144), but considerably down on the 1990s when the average annual number of stoppages was 266. There were six stoppages beginning in 2011 that continued into 2012.
There were 236,800 workers involved in labour disputes during 2012, which is lower than the average number involved per year in the 2000s (402,100) and 1980s (1,040,300). However it is higher than the average in the 1990s (201,600).
Table 2 presents labour disputes figures for the period 1993 to 2012, while Figures 1 and 2 illustrate working days lost and the number of stoppages respectively. The table shows that there are a number of spikes in the time series in years when a particularly large strike took place, showing the impact individual strikes can have on the statistics. The high number of days lost in 2011 was due to large public sector strikes, while the 2002 figure was due to one very large stoppage in the transport and storage industry. Looking at the last 20 years compared with the previous 20 years shows that the average number of working days lost per year has decreased considerably from 7.8 million days in the period 1973-1992 to 615,700 days in the period 1993-2012. A longer time series can be found within the reference table (60.5 Kb Excel sheet) in this article.
|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|
Cells containing a hyphen (-) represent zero.
Based on the September 2012 estimates of employee jobs from Workforce Jobs (ONS)
Stoppages in progress during year
Figure 2 shows that there has been a significant decline in the number of strikes in the 2000s compared with the previous decade. However, the average number of working days lost per strike in the 2000s is generally at a similar level or higher than that in previous decades, showing 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 1993 to 2012. 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, as well as adjusting for employment changes in industries and regions throughout time. As the level of employee jobs has generally risen over time, and the level of working days lost has generally fallen, the strike rate in the last 10 years is generally lower than in previous decades. This rise in employment also explains strike rates that differ between years when there are no discernible changes in working days lost. The 248,800 working days lost in 2012 is equivalent to nine working days lost per 1,000 employees, which is the lowest since 2005 and the second lowest on record.
An alternative way of putting labour disputes statistics into a wider context is to consider working time lost through labour disputes as a proportion of time actually worked. In 2012 an estimated 48,800 million hours were worked in the UK. Comparing this with the 1.9 million hours lost through labour disputes shows that approximately one in every 25,100 potential working days were lost through strikes in 2012. The equivalent figure for 2011 was one in every 4,400.
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 (see technical note for more details), 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.
Table 3 shows labour disputes statistics for 2012 broken down into 12 industrial groups (classified according to the Standard Industrial Classification 2007). The 2012 figure continues the trend seen in recent years, where the majority of the working days lost in the year occurred in public administration and defence, with 150,400 working days lost, accounting for 60% of the working days lost in 2012. However, this industrial group only accounted for 12% of all strikes (16), indicating that the number of workers taking part in these strikes is, on average, greater than other industrial groups. The second largest number of working days lost were in education, with 39,200 days lost in 2012, accounting for a further 16% of the working days lost. The strike rates for all industries are generally very low with the exception of public administration and defence (110). However, this is still a decrease on 2011 (277) and 2010 (172).
|Industry group (SIC 2007)||SIC class||Working days lost (000s)||Working days lost per 1,000 employees||Workers involved (000s)||Stoppages *|
|All industries and services||248.8||9||236.8||131|
|Agriculture forestry and fishing||01,02,03||-||-||-||1|
|Mining, quarrying and Electricity, gas, air conditioning||5-9, 35||-||-||-||-|
|Sewerage, Waste Management and Remediation Activities and Water Supply||36-39||1.4||8||0.4||5|
|Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles,|
|personal and household goods and Accommodation and Food Services||45-48, 55-56||-||-||-||-|
|Transport, storage, Information and Communication||49-53, 58-63||28.3||12||18.5||36|
|Financial and Insurance, Real estate, Professional, Scientific,|
|Technical and Admin Activities||64-82||9.0||2||4.2||15|
|Public administration and defence; compulsory social security||84||150.4||110||158.6||16|
|Human Health and social work||86-88||4.1||1||3.6||8|
|Arts Entertainment and Recreation Other community, social and personal service activities, private households with employed persons, extra-territorial organisations and bodies||90-99||0.9||1||1.0||3|
Table 4 shows working days lost per 1,000 employees for four industrial groupings over a 10- year period. Although the rate for the service sector has decreased significantly in 2012, and is at its lowest level since 2005, industrial action within this sector has generally remained strong over the last 10 years compared with the other industrial groupings. The strike rate in construction has also shown a large decrease from last year, while the strike rate in the mining and energy sector remains at zero, and the strike rate for manufacturing increased slightly to 5. Figure 3 shows the strike rates for the manufacturing and services sectors separately for the period between 2003 and 2012. 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 10 years. This is generally due to large strikes in public administration and defence, and transport.
|Mining and energy||Manufacturing||Services||Construction||All industries and services|
|SIC2003 - 2003||2||18||20||11||19|
Table 5 shows regional strike rates between 2008 and 2012, with a further breakdown of the figures for 2012 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 regions with the highest number of working days lost per 1,000 employee jobs in 2012 were London and the North East, with both recording a figure of 14. In all, every region showed a decrease when compared with 2011, with eight regions recording a five-year low.
Each region has seen a similar proportion of working days lost in each industry, with the majority in public administration and defence and education. However, public administration and defence tends to have a smaller proportion of strikes compared with other industrial groupings, again reflecting the large labour disputes that can occur in this sector.
Table 6 shows stoppages in 2012 by principal cause and industry grouping. In 2012, 67% of working days lost were due to disputes over pay, accounting for 46% of all stoppages. The biggest contributors to this were public administration and defence and education. Although the number of working days lost within public administration and defence came from a small number of large strikes over pay, the majority of strikes in this sector 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 the size of pay increases. Disputes over pension provisions are also classified as disputes over pay.
Figure 4 and Table 7 give information on working days lost by cause of dispute in each year from 2002 to 2012.The figures are often dominated by one or two very large strikes, which 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, with only two years not having pay as the major cause of working days lost. For both 2009 and 2010, redundancy resulted in the highest number of working days lost.
|Year||Wage disputes||Other Causes|
|Wage rates and earnings levels||Extra wage and fringe benefits||Total||Duration and pattern of hours worked||Redundancy 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 and Figure 5 show the duration of the stoppages in progress in 2012. These show that a large number of stoppages (47%) lasted for only one day, involved 91% of workers and accounted for 187,900 working days lost (76%). Although more than half of the stoppages of work in 2012 as a result of labour disputes lasted for more than one day, this only accounts for approximately a quarter of working days lost. This suggests that the larger disputes tend to last for a single day only, while the strikes that last for more than one day tend to be smaller in terms of the number of workers involved.
|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 2012 by size and Figure 6 illustrates that a large proportion of days lost result from larger stoppages, although very few stoppages are large. The data also shows that 76% of working days lost in 2012 resulted from stoppages where more than 5,000 days were lost in total but only 6% of stoppages were that large. The highest proportion of stoppages was within the ‘under 250 days’ category, accounting for 62% of all stoppages, although this category recorded a working days lost percentage of just 3%.
|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||8.0||3.2||6.0||2.5||81||61.8|
|250 and under 500||3.9||1.6||2.8||1.2||11||8.4|
|500 and under 1,000||10.8||4.3||7.4||3.1||15||11.5|
|1,000 and under 5,000||37.3||15.0||17.3||7.3||16||12.2|
|5,000 and under 25,000||81.8||32.9||78.8||33.4||7||5.3|
|25,000 and under 50,000||-||-||-||-||-||-|
|50,000 days and over||107.0||43.0||123.7||52.4||1||0.8|
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 fell by 1,078,600 from 1,276,200 in 2011 to 197,600 in 2012, the biggest annual fall between years since records began in 1996. This decrease in strike activity is also shown by the fall in the strike rate in the public sector from 210 working days lost per 1000 employees in 2011 to 34 working days lost per 1000 employees in 2012. The 2012 figure is also the lowest figure since 2005.
In the private sector 51,100 days were lost over 68 stoppages, which accounts for 21% of all days lost in 2012. The level of working days lost in the private sector has seen a general reduction since 2005, with the 2012 figure of 51,100 days lost being lower than the average between 2005 and 2011 of 71,000.
The proportion of stoppages is split fairly evenly between the public and private sectors in 2012, with 52% of stoppages in the private sector and 48% in the public sector. The proportion of working days lost in the public sector is significantly larger, however, at just under 80%. This reflects the relatively large one-off strikes that occurred in the public sector in 2012.
|Year||Working days lost (000s)||Stoppagesa||Strike rateb|
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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.