Acas offers advice as junior doctors strike

An empathetic and respectful approach can help uncover common ground, according to Acas' chief executive - ©Neuroshock/Adobe Stock

As junior doctors in England begin unprecedented strike action today (3 January), Susan Clews, chief executive of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), has advised HR leaders to take a strategic approach to conflict management.

Junior doctors have put employee disputes to the forefront of the news agenda once again, as those belonging to the British Medical Association (BMA) strike for a 35% pay rise. The planned 144-hour strike, for BMA members in England, is set to be the longest in NHS history.

Read more: Why does it feel like everyone is going on strike?

BMA representatives say that a 35% pay rise would restore junior doctors’ earnings, after inflation, to 2008 levels. The government maintains that such an increase would be unaffordable.

Speaking to HR Magazine, Susan Clews, Acas’ chief executive, said: “It's important for HR leaders to take a strategic approach to conflict management to reduce the risk of disputes escalating.

“This includes early and ongoing engagement with trade unions and other workplace representatives, taking the time to understand and recognise the perspective of the other party.

“Adopting an empathetic and respectful approach can help uncover common ground.

“If HR leaders find themselves dealing with strike action, they should continue to keep opportunities for discussion with trade union representatives open and available throughout. HR leaders should do what they can to be honest and creative without overpromising.

“It’s important to focus on the issues, not the people bringing them. Where possible and appropriate, seek help. Acas remains available to help parties resolve collective disputes.”

Read more: A year of strikes: what has changed?

Responding to health secretary Victoria Atkins’ plea last Wednesday, for doctors’ representatives to “come back to the table” in order to agree a deal, the BMA’s junior doctors committee co-chairs released a statement. “It is her government that refuses to talk to us while strikes are scheduled,” said Dr Robert Laurenson and Dr Vivek Trivedi.

“If the government is serious about wanting to resolve the dispute, it must drop its obstructive precondition and return to the table,” the BMA cochairs stated. “Our door is open.”

Clews said: “We have a team of experts who are well prepared and ready to help with the junior doctors dispute.” She added that Acas’ own research shows "overwhelming" support (76% among employers and 71% of employees) for “the various sides involved in strike action to seek mediation from Acas to resolve their dispute”.

Read more: Over 100 politicians worldwide oppose UK Strikes Bill

She continued: “Acas has decades of experience in resolving disputes, which includes helping the various sides look at options for a compromise. Our collective conciliation service is impartial, free and independent. It is also voluntary, which means we can only hold formal conciliation talks when all the parties in dispute agree that the time is right.”