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One in three employers braced for industrial action, says CIPD

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Employers, particularly in the public sector, are braced for a surge of industrial action, with a third preparing to deal with their own staff downing tools on strike, CIPD research shows.

Seven in 10 employers (71%) agree there will be increasing levels of industrial action in the next 12 months and one in three (33%) say strike action by their staff is 'likely', according to a survey of nearly 400 employers by the CIPD. Its Employment Relations Survey, published yesterday, highlights deteriorating employment relations in the public sector as spending cuts begin to bite.

Eight in 10 public sector respondents (79%) agree employers can expect to face increasing levels of industrial action over the next year and almost half (49%) say strike action among their staff is likely in the next 12 months. In contrast, just 18% of private services sector respondents anticipate employees in their organisation may take strike action in the next 12 months, as do 11% in manufacturing and production organisations and 5% of those in the not-for-profit sector.

While still generally positive, relations between unions and management have deteriorated since 2008, the survey shows. Over half (55%) of employers responding to the survey describe relations between management and unions as 'positive', down from 65% in 2008.

Ben Willmott, senior public policy adviser, CIPD, said: "The survey highlights the impact that spending cuts are having on the employment relations climate. However, to what extent this deterioration in relations between management and unions will result in sustained strike action by public sector workers is still open to question. Our 2008 survey also found a third of employers anticipated strike action by staff over the next 12 months, but this did not result in a sudden increase in working days lost to strike action during 2009. "What actually happened was that the economic crisis led to management and unions working together in the private sector in many cases to try and save jobs. The recession saw many employees opting to take a pay cut or to work part time instead of occupying the picket lines to save their jobs." The Employment Relations Survey also found six in 10 employers see developing or maintaining employee engagement as the most likely (65%) and most desirable (59%) focus for developing positive employee relations going forward. Willmott added: "The recent launch of the Employee Engagement Taskforce by the prime minister highlights an increasing recognition that the quality of leadership and people management has never been more important. Employees are under increasing pressure at work against a backdrop of job insecurity, low wage settlements and reduced pension benefits. How people are led and managed on a day-to-day basis will to a large extent decide if individuals, organisations and ultimately UK plc remain resilient and productive during tough economic times. "A critical part of effective leadership and management is effective communication and meaningful consultation so employees are properly informed and feel their views are taken into account before decisions are made. However, employees and union representatives also need to show that they understand the challenges facing the organisation they work for when responding to proposals for change."