Public sector strikes aftermath: further industrial action will lead to backlash against 'right to strike'

Yesterday’s public sector strikes, including two million members of staff, look set to cost the economy £500 million – and if further strikes are called there will be a ‘backlash’ according to legal experts.

Schools, airports, the NHS, Councils, the Government and Courts across the UK suffered as a result of the strike, with working parents being amongst the hardest hit.

Two million public sector workers took part in the strike, resulting in the closure of 99% of schools in Scotland and 86.8% of school closures and 11.5% of partial closures in England.

UK public sector workers took industrial action over pensions in what has been deemed the biggest walkout for a generation.

Marc Meryon, head of industrial relations at international law firm Eversheds, said: "The public sector unions have championed the "right to strike"; but what of the rights of millions of others who have no final salary pension and whose private and professional lives will be disrupted?

"Increasingly the law is recognising the need to balance these competing rights. The courts are beginning to question whether the right to strike should be allowed to trample over the rights of individuals and businesses to carry on their day to day lives without disruption from strikes.

"So we anticipate that if further strikes are called there may be a backlash, not just from the government modifying the UK's strike laws, but also from a society which places increasing emphasis on respect for the right of individuals to work and live without disruption from others."

Judith Fiddler founder and CEO of Direct Law & Personnel, a company who specialises in pensions, HR & employment law, said: "The effects of losing a day's childcare to most people will result in either having to find alternative care - bearing in mind, this will have to be with a registered childminder, most of which are booked up many months in advance or having to take the day out of work. Generally this far into the year, most people have used all their annual holidays.

"The knock-on effect of having to take sick days or unpaid leave can be devastating for families this close to Christmas. It is estimated that the total loss of this one day will be in the region of £500 million."

The row was triggered after the Government proposed a 3.2% point increase in pension contributions. The Hutton Report suggested that public sector workers will have to pay more and work longer to be entitled to the same sort of pension. This change in policy will affect individuals will an annual income higher than £15,000.

Of the 1.1 million members of Unison - Britain's biggest public sector trade union - only one third of members took part in the ballot, with 78% voting in favour.

John Longworth, director General of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said: "The Office for Budget Responsibility's economic forecast and continued global uncertainty prove once again that strike action is irresponsible and reckless. Trade unions are living in a bubble and ignoring the fact that Britain has to make its way in a competitive world.

"It's true that low growth and austerity measures are affecting peoples' lives across Britain, public- and private-sector alike. But these measures are essential to maintaining our fiscal credibility and helping to stabilise the economy. Few people are likely to see significant real earnings growth over the next couple of years, and every sector of the economy will have to shoulder some of the pain.

"Businesses are doing everything they can, working flat out to make sales, attract orders, retain valued staff and deliver growth. For some workers to walk out over acceptable changes to a generous pension scheme while others are busting a gut to get the economy moving is a big mistake.

"Some commentators see strike action as a victimless crime. Tell that to the major companies forced to shut down, the parents who can't get childcare and miss out on a day's pay, those people that can't get to work, and the small companies that lose out on a day's takings.

"The world is also watching."

John Philpott, chief economic advisor at the CIPD, added: The estimated cut of 710,000 excludes the effect of austerity measures introduced in 2010-11, particularly the freeze in public sector recruitment announced immediately after the 2010 general election.

"According to the OBR, the level of general government employment fell by almost 140,000 in that period. Assuming the Office for Budget Responsibility projection proves correct, the total cull of public sector jobs by 2017 will thus be 850,000, almost 15% of the public sector workforce at the start of 2010.

"The loss of 850,000 public sector jobs in less than a decade is not unprecedented in UK economic history. A similar cull occurred in the 1990s and was easily absorbed without any associated rise in unemployment. At that time, however, the labour market was being boosted by a strongly rising economic tide. There is less prospect of a similarly benign outcome in today's far more straightened times."