Workers at the Port of Felixstowe went on strike on 27 September for eight days after negotiations over pay broke down. This adds to the list of strikes this autumn, with further strikes on the railways and Royal Mail taking place in October 2022.
For employers, industrial action will be incredibly disruptive, take up a lot of management time and end up costing the business as its operations are disrupted or suspended.
Ideally, disputes over pay or other conditions would be resolved with a trade union or non-union employee representatives. If the dispute cannot be resolved, then a recognised trade union may consider taking industrial action. Industrial action can only be taken if the majority of the members involved support it through a ballot.
What are some requirements to take industrial action?
There are strict requirements that must be met in order for the industrial action to be lawful. Going into the full scope of these would require a different lengthy article. One key requirement is that written notice of that action must be sent to the employer in advance. So employers will know it is coming.
If the statutory requirements for the lawful industrial action are not met, then an employer faced with the threat of unlawful industrial action should consider court proceedings to prevent the action taking place.
If the strike does go ahead, employers do not have to pay employees who are on strike. Employers should only deduct the amount that the employee would have earnt during the strike. For example, you cannot deduct an employee’s pay If they are not supposed to be working on the day of the strike.
Can those who are not taking industrial action be asked to cover extra work?
Employers can ask non-striking employees to cover work during this strike. Although this will not always be practical if it means taking those employees away from their normal Jobs. Also any request needs to be consistent with their employment contract regarding the role and duties they are employed to carry out.
Regulations prohibiting employers from hiring agency staff to provide temporary work cover during a strike were revoked as of 21 July 2022. The idea was to help employers minimise the impact of industrial action on their operations. Whether this makes much difference remains to be seen. Temporary workers need to be suitably trained / qualified for the role, not something that can be achieved at short notice and at little cost in many logistics role. Also providers of temporary labour may be concerned about sending agency workers across picket lines.
Some other options for employers to keep the business operational during a strike may include:
• Use existing employees from other parts of the business to carry out the work and use agency workers to cover their work.
• Recruit employees on a short term basis to carry out the work. In many cases this will create issues regarding induction, training and safety, particularly in the transport and logistics sector.
• Temporarily outsource certain functions to an external contractor.
• Use agency workers or other short term labour after the strike to help the business recover.
In many cases these options will not be particularly attractive or practical, which brings us back to the importance of making all efforts to try to resolve the dispute before it escalates into industrial action.
This is but the latest challenge to be thrown at the shipping and logistics sector over the last couple of years and due to the critical importance of Felixstowe will undoubtedly cause very significant disruption to supply chains into and out of the UK. The risk is that the disruption spreads to other ports and logistics hubs either because supply chains are re-routed or due to further strike action elsewhere.