There were 273,000 working days lost due to labour disputes, the sixth-lowest annual total since records began in 1891.
The education sector accounted for 66% of all working days lost, due mainly to disputes involving employees of universities.
The number of working days lost in the public sector (26,000) was the lowest since records for public sector strikes began in 1996.
There were 39,000 workers involved in labour disputes, the second-lowest figure since records for workers involved began in 1893.
There were 81 stoppages, the second-lowest figure since records for stoppages began in 1930.
A comparison of labour disputes in 2017 and 2018 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 themselves. See Section 11 of this article for more details on these definitions.
|Working days lost through stoppages:||276,000||273,000|
|Workers involved in stoppages:||33,000||39,000|
|Mean number of WDL per stoppage||3,499||3,367|
|Median number of WDL per stoppage||345||400|
Download this table Table 1 : Number of working days lost (WDL), workers involved and stoppages, UK, 2017 and 2018 in progress in year.xls .csv
Information on earlier years is available in Dataset Table 1: labour disputes annual estimates, 1891 to 2018.
The mean number of working days lost per stoppage was slightly lower in 2018 than in 2017 but the median number was higher. The mean value is generally much higher than the median, because working days lost can be greatly affected by large one-off strikes. For this reason, the median tends to give a more typical measure of the average number of working days lost per stoppage.Back to table of contents
As shown in Figure 3, the amount of industrial action has significantly reduced since the early 1990s. This is a stark contrast to the level of action seen when the miners went on strike in the 1970s and 1980s. The 1910s and 1920s saw even greater levels of industrial action culminating in the general strike of 1926.
The highest annual total for working days lost on record was 162.2 million in 1926, the year of the general strike. Since 1926, there have only been three years when the annual total of working days lost has exceeded 20 million:
23.9 million in 1972, due mainly to a strike by coal miners
29.5 million in 1979, due mainly to the so-called “winter of discontent” (a number of strikes in the public sector in the winter of 1978 to 1979)
27.1 million in 1984, due mainly to a strike by coal miners
Since 2000, the highest annual total of working days lost was 1.4 million in 2011, due mainly to two large public sector strikes.
Table 2 presents labour disputes figures for the period 1999 to 2018. Of the 273,000 working days lost in 2018, 61% came from a single stoppage involving university employees. The next-largest stoppage in 2018, in terms of working days lost, accounted for only 7% of the total.
|Stoppages 3||Stoppages |
loss of 100,000
working days or
Download this table Table 2: Number of working days lost and stoppages, UK, 1999 to 2018.xls .csv
The second column of Table 2 shows working days lost per 1,000 employee jobs for each year from 1999 to 2018. This enables comparisons to be made adjusting for employment changes over time. The 273,000 working days lost in 2018 is equivalent to nine working days lost per 1,000 employees, which is lower than the average over the last 20 years.
Figures 4 and 5 illustrate working days lost and the number of stoppages respectively for the last 20 years. They show 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, for example, was due to two large public sector strikes, while the 2002 figure was due to one very large stoppage in the transport and storage industry.
As shown in Figure 5, there has generally been a decline in the number of strikes since 1999. Though volatile, the number of working days lost has remained broadly the same over this period. This shows that although the number of stoppages has fallen, large-scale stoppages have become more common.
A longer time series showing stoppages and working days lost can be found within Dataset Table 1.Back to table of contents
Table 3 shows labour disputes statistics for 2018 broken down into 13 industry groups, classified according to the Standard Industrial Classification 2007: SIC 2007. The largest sector, in terms of working days lost and workers involved was education, which accounted for:
66% of all working days lost (179,000 out of a total of 273,000)
52% of all workers involved (20,000 out of a total of 39,000)
21% of all strikes (17 out of 81)
While the education sector accounted for most of the working days lost and workers involved in 2018, the sector showing the largest number of stoppages was transport and storage (25 out of 81). The strikes in this sector mainly occurred within public transport.
|Industry group (SIC 2007)||SIC class||Working |
|Agriculture forestry |
|Mining, quarrying |
|5 to 9, 35||0.1||1||-||1|
|Manufacturing||10 to 33||3.0||1||0.6||5|
|36 to 39||4.6||21||0.9||4|
|Construction||41 to 43||5.8||4||0.8||3|
and Food Services
|45 to 47, 55 to 56||0.9||-||0.3||6|
|49 to 53||42.6||30||4.9||25|
|58 to 63||10.6||8||0.5||2|
|Financial and |
Scientific, Technical and
|64 to 82||4.0||1||0.7||5|
and social work
|86 to 88||4.9||1||1.2||6|
|Other||90 to 99||0.8||1||0.1||3|
Download this table Table 3: Number of working days lost and stoppages by industry, UK, 2018.xls .csv
As shown in Figure 6, the highest number of working days lost in 2018 occurred in the education sector (67 working days lost per 1,000 employees), a contrast to 2017 when most working days lost occurred in the transport and storage sector.Back to table of contents
As shown in Figure 7, the region with the highest strike rate in 2018 was Scotland (23 working days lost per 1,000 employees). This contrasts with 2017, when the highest strike rate was in London (28 working days lost per 1,000 employees).
Looking at the figures over the 10-year period from 2009 to 2018:
the highest strike rates (22 working days lost per 1,000 employees) occurred in the North East and in Yorkshire and The Humber
the lowest strike rate (seven working days lost per 1,000 employees) occurred in the East of England
Dataset Table 2 shows regional strike rates between 2009 and 2018, with a further breakdown of the figures for 2018 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.Back to table of contents
For 2009 and 2010, following the recession, redundancies were the main cause of disputes. However, since 2011, pay has been the main cause of disputes in all years except for 2016, when the main cause was duration and pattern of hours worked (shown within the “Other” category in Figure 8 and due mainly to a dispute involving junior doctors in the National Health Service in England).
In 2018, over half of the stoppages (50 out of a total of 81) were due to pay disputes and they accounted for:
225,200 working days lost (around 83% of all working days lost)
33,500 workers involved (around 85% of all workers involved)
Dataset Table 3 shows stoppages in 2018 by principal cause and industry grouping. 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.
Dataset Table 4 shows information on working days lost by cause of dispute in each year since 2009. The figures are often dominated by one or two very large strikes, which can make comparisons over time difficult.Back to table of contents
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 in disagreement.
Table 4 shows the duration of the 81 stoppages in progress in 2018. These show that 12 out of the 81 stoppages in 2018 lasted for only one day. While these one-day stoppages accounted for 14.8% of all stoppages, they only accounted for 2.2% of all workers involved and 0.3% of all working days lost in 2018.
days lost (%)
all workers (%)
all stoppages (%)
|6 to 10||20.6||7.6||3.3||8.3||16||19.8|
|11 to 15||176.6||64.8||19.0||48.6||5||6.2|
|16 to 20||1.3||0.5||0.2||0.6||3||3.7|
|21 to 30||3.8||1.4||0.3||0.8||4||4.9|
|31 to 50||41.4||15.2||1.7||4.3||5||6.2|
Download this table Table 4: Working days lost, workers involved and stoppages in progress by duration, UK, 2018.xls .csv
Back to table of contents
Table 5 shows disputes in 2018 by size. Of the 81 stoppages in 2018, over half (45) had less than 500 days lost. These stoppages with less than 500 days lost accounted for only 2.8% of all working days lost. Only two stoppages in 2018 had 25,000 or more days lost, but these two stoppages accounted for 68.6% of all working days lost. This shows the impact that large strikes can have on the figures.
|Working days |
lost in each
of all working
days lost (%)
of all workers
|Under 250 days||3.7||1.4||2.4||6.0||36||44.4|
|250 and under 500||3.8||1.4||1.2||3.0||9||11.1|
|500 and under 1,000||8.7||3.2||1.9||4.7||13||16.0|
|1,000 and under 5,000||22.3||8.2||4.4||11.4||14||17.3|
|5,000 and under 25,000||47.3||17.3||11.0||28.2||7||8.6|
|25,000 days and over||186.9||68.6||18.3||46.7||2||2.5|
Download this table Table 5: Stoppages in progress by size of dispute, UK, 2018.xls .csv
Back to table of contents
While records for working days lost go back to 1891, the figures can only be broken down between the public and private sectors from 1996. Table 6 shows working days lost and number of stoppages for the private and public sectors for the last 10 years.
|Stoppages¹||Working days lost|
per 1000 employees²
Download this table Table 6: Number of working days lost and stoppages by public and private sector, UK, 2009 to 2018.xls .csv
As shown in Figure 11, for each year between 2000 and 2016 there were more working days lost in the public sector than in the private sector even though the private sector is much larger. However, for both 2017 and 2018, there were more working days lost in the private sector than in the public sector.
the number of working days lost in the private sector (246,000) was the largest since 1996
the number of working days lost in the public sector (26,000) was the lowest since records for public sector strikes began in 1996
The Labour disputes Quality and Methodology Information report contains important information on:
the strengths and limitations of the data and how it compares with related data
uses and users
how the output was created
the quality of the output including the accuracy of the data
Definition of stoppages
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.
A stoppage in progress is defined as a dispute that has continued from a previously recorded dispute by the same organisation and for the same cause. Prior to 2015, a dispute was counted as a new stoppage if there was a gap of more than one month between instances of industrial action. From 2015, disputes with a gap of more than one month between instances of industrial action are counted as a single stoppage.
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.
Working days lost
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.
Figures given for working days lost per 1,000 employees use employee jobs for each year taken from our most recent estimates of workforce jobs.
Number of stoppages
There are difficulties in ensuring complete recording of stoppages, in particular short disputes lasting only a day or involving only a few workers may be overlooked. 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.
We aim 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 this 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.Back to table of contents
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