In 2013, 443,600 working days were lost in the UK from 114 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. In 2013 there were 50 stoppages in the public sector compared with 64 in the private sector showing a decrease in the overall stoppages from the previous year particularly in the public sector. 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 2013 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 2013, and provides a more in-depth analysis of figures than that published as part of the monthly Labour Market Statistical Bulletin.
In 2013, 443,600 working days were lost in the UK from 114 stoppages of work arising from labour disputes. The days lost figure is almost double the total lost in 2012 (248,800). There was an overall decrease in the number of stoppages on the previous year for both public (50) and private (64) sector disputes, although disputes in the public sector resulted in a larger proportion of working days lost.
A comparison of labour disputes in 2012 and 2013 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 earlier years is available in the table Labour Disputes Annual Estimates 1891-2013, which can be found in the reference tables associated with this article.
|Working days lost through stoppages||2012||2013|
|In progress in year||248,800||443,600|
|Beginning in year||227,600||443,600|
|Workers involved in stoppages|
|in progress in year||236,800||395,400|
|Of which: directly involved||235,000||395,400|
|Beginning in year||215,900||387,300|
|Of which: directly involved||214,000||387,300|
|In progress in year||131||114|
|Beginning in year||125||113|
The 2013 total is lower than the average number of working days lost per year in the 2000’s and earlier decades, when industrial action was more common.
The reason that the 2012 and 2013 total of 248,800 and 443,600 working days lost respectively is significantly lower than the 2011 total (1,389,700) is largely attributable to a small number of large scale public sector strikes in 2011.
The number of stoppages in 2013 (114) is lower than in 2012 (131). 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 was one stoppage beginning in 2012 that continued into 2013.
There were 395,400 workers involved in labour disputes during 2013, 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 1994 to 2013, 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 a couple of 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||Working days lost per 1,000 employees 2||Workers involved (000s)||Stoppages 3||Stoppages involving the loss of 100,000 working days or more|
Figure 2 shows that there have been significantly fewer strikes in the 2000s on average compared with the 1990s. However, the average number of working days lost per strike since 2000 is generally in line with 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 1994 to 2013. 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 discernable changes in working days lost. The 443,600 working days lost in 2013 is equivalent to 16 working days lost per 1,000 employees, which is lower than the average over the last 20 years (23).
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 2013 an estimated 49,700 million hours were worked in the UK. Comparing this with the 3.5 million hours lost through labour disputes shows that approximately one in every 14,400 potential working days was lost through strikes in 2013. The equivalent figure for 2012 was one in every 25,100.
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 2013 broken down into 12 industrial groups (classified according to the Standard Industrial Classification 2007). Once again education has been the sector with the largest number of working days lost, accounting for just under 50% of the working days lost in 2013. However, this industrial group only accounted for 25% of all strikes (28), 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 was public administration and defence, with 180,200 days lost in 2013, accounting for a further 41% of the working days lost. The strike rates for all industries are generally very low with the exception of public administration and defence(134) and education (83).
|Industry group (SIC 2007)||SIC class||Working days lost (000s)||Working days lost per 1,000 employees||Workers involved (000s)||Stoppages 2|
|All industries and services||443.6||16||395.4||114|
|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||1.8||10||0.3||2|
|Wholesale and retail trade; repair of motor vehicles,|
|personal and household goods and Accommodation and Food Services||45-48, 55-56||0.1||-||0.1||2|
|Transport, storage, Information and Communication||49-53, 58-63||23.7||10||11.7||20|
|Financial and Insurance, Real estate, Professional, Scientific,|
|Technical and Admin Activities||64-82||5.9||1||3.2||28|
|Public administration and defence; compulsory social security||84||180.2||134||124.1||13|
|Human Health and social work||86-88||3.9||1||1.3||10|
|Arts Entertainment and Recreation Other community, social and personal service activities, private households with employed persons, extra-territorial organisations and bodies||90-99||1.6||1||0.8||2|
Table 4 shows working days lost per 1,000 employees for four industrial groupings over a 10- year period. The rate for the service sector in 2013 remains strong compared with the other industrial groupings, and this trend can be seen going back over the last 10 years. The strike rates in manufacturing and construction have decreased slightly from last year, while the strike rate in the mining and energy sector remains at zero. Figure 3 shows the strike rates for the manufacturing and services sectors separately for the period between 2004 and 2013. 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|
Table 5 shows regional strike rates between 2007 and 2013, with a further breakdown of the figures for 2013 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 2013 were the North West (15) and Yorkshire and The Humber (14). Three of the 12 regions showed a decrease when compared with 2012.
Each region has seen a similar proportion of working days lost in each industry, with the majority in education. However, this year the education sector has had a smaller proportion of strikes compared with other industrial groupings, again reflecting the large labour disputes that have occurred in this sector.
Table 6 shows stoppages in 2013 by principal cause and industry grouping. In 2013, 94% of working days lost were due to disputes over pay, accounting for 60% of all stoppages. The biggest contributors to this were public administration and defence and education. Although the number of working days lost within education 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 2003 to 2013.The figures are often dominated by one or two very large strikes, which can make comparisons over time difficult. Looking back over a 10 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.
|Wage disputes||Other Causes|
|Year||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 2013. These show that a large number of stoppages (63%) lasted for only one day, involved 95% of workers and accounted for 415,000 working days lost (94%). Although more than a third of the stoppages of work in 2013 as a result of labour disputes lasted for more than one day, this only accounts for just over 5% of 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 2013 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 data also shows that 89% of working days lost in 2013 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 61% of all stoppages, although this category accounted for just over 1% of working days lost.
|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||5.9||1.3||4.7||1.2||69||60.5|
|250 and under 500||4.5||1.0||3.0||0.8||15||13.2|
|500 and under 1,000||5.7||1.3||2.9||0.7||8||7.0|
|1,000 and under 5,000||30.6||6.9||20.7||5.2||15||13.2|
|5,000 and under 25,000||47.0||10.6||49.0||12.4||3||2.6|
|25,000 and under 50,000||25.7||5.8||28.0||7.1||1||0.9|
|50,000 days and over||324.4||73.1||287.1||72.6||3||2.6|
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 increased from 198,000 in 2012 to 363,000 in 2013. This increase in strike activity is also shown by the rise in the strike rate in the public sector from 34 working days lost per 1000 employees in 2012 to 64 in 2013.
In the private sector 81,000 days were lost over 64 stoppages, which accounts for 18% of all days lost in 2013.
The proportion of stoppages is split fairly evenly between the public and private sectors in 2013, with 56% of stoppages in the private sector and 44% in the public sector. The proportion of working days lost in the public sector is significantly larger, however, at 82%. This reflects the relatively large one-off strikes that occurred in the public sector in 2013.
|Year||Working days lost (000s)||Stoppagesa||Strike rateb|
Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: email@example.com
Technical information regarding the Labour Disputes Annual Article is given below. Further quality and methodological information regarding the survey can be found in the quality and methodology information for labour disputes survey (124.3 Kb Pdf) .
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.