Jonathan Exten-Wright, Partner at DLA Piper commenting on the impact of public sector strike on schools, said: “If the strikes go ahead the consequences could be immense.
Many schools have already notified parents that they will be closed on 30 November due to the strike, leaving parents across the country to make last-minute alternative child care arrangements, and possibly taking the day off work, disrupting thousands of employers. Employers may have the option to prevent employees taking leave if they act quickly, but this will inevitably lead to significant employee relations issue; if employees are not given much notice of school closures, they may have rights to take emergency dependent’s leave in any event. Although the unions will by now have given the required seven days’ notice of strike action, it may then take time for each school to confirm what the impact will be, particularly as individual employees are under no obligation to inform their employer whether they intend to strike. Employers may need to consider whether they can implement flexible working for some employees to minimise disruption and may also need to closely monitor absence on the day of the strike”.
Jonathan Exten – Wright, Partner at DLA Piper commenting on the use of agency workers during the public sector strikes, said: “As the well-publicised row over civil servants covering the work of striking UK Borders Agency staff demonstrates, public sector organisations also face difficult issues over how to keep essential services operating when staff are on strike. There are legal restrictions on using agency workers to cover for striking workers, so employers cannot bring in temporary cover from outside the organisation. Non-striking workers can be asked to cover for colleagues, but many union members will refuse to do so and employers may not be able to enforce this depending on what contracts of employment say.” Jonathan Exten-Wright, Partner at DLA Piper commenting on potential regulatory changes to industrial action, said: “Although strike action overall is at a historic low, the potential impact of short term strike action in particular sectors such as education should not be underestimated.
The significant support in the business community for tighter controls over industrial action is likely to increase if the private sector faces significant disruption as a result of public sector action. Further, should strikes impose serious damage to our economic and social fabric, the pressure on Government to make changes to the law on industrial action will ratchet up including seriously considering the tightening up of balloting requirements for industrial action.” DLA Piper carried out a study of senior business leaders in 2010, results found that business leaders were evenly split on whether it is a mistake to make any changes to industrial relations laws until economic recovery gains more pace, with 41 percent wanting to wait while 39 percent were supportive of change now. In relation to specific proposals for reform, however, 76 percent of respondents were in favour of changing the law to introduce a minimum threshold for ballots for industrial action.