Public sector strike - how will it affect my business?

This week public sector workers will stage what could be the biggest strike action since the 1920s.

The one-day strike could herald the start of a ‘winter of discontent’, with industrial action becoming increasingly common.

Wednesday’s action is limited to the public sector, but it could also impact on private businesses. So how could the strike affect you?

What is happening on Wednesday?

On Wednesday more than 2.5 million public sector workers will begin a new wave of industrial action against proposed changes to their pension schemes.

Some 30 unions, including the PCS, NUT, and Unite, will be taking action during the day. In addition to walkouts there will be pickets and marches across the country.

The strike is officially restricted to the public sector – although it is thought that some private sector employees could also walk out in solidarity.

Why are people striking?

Public sector workers are striking in opposition to significant changes to their pension arrangements. Under the new pension regime many public sector workers will be forced to pay as much as 50 per cent more in pension contributions every month, which many say is unaffordable.

In addition, employees will have to work for longer, and will receive less in retirement as a result of the switch in pension calculations from the retail prices index (RPI) to the consumer prices index (CPI).

What will the impact be?

This depends on how you intended to spend Wednesday. The government’s decision to ask non-striking public sector workers to man the country’s borders suggests, for example, that the impact at airports could be significant. Similarly, if you are travelling through central London during the afternoon you might need to leave more time in order to account for the march.

But in the private sector perhaps the most significant impact is likely to be on childcare. In some parts of the country it is estimated that 90 per cent of schools could be closed– and this obviously has implications for you and your employees.

Last week the government suggested that employees should bring their children to work in an effort to mitigate the supposed impact of the strike. The idea was widely derided as unrealistic, but it does highlight the fact that you and your employees may have to make special arrangements on Wednesday.

Do I have to make childcare arrangements?

Despite the government’s encouragement that we should all be bringing children into the office, it is important to understand that you have no obligation as an employer to allow this. The responsibility for childcare lies with the parent – but you should recognise the fact that your employees might well be finding it difficult to make arrangements themselves.

Where possible you should be flexible with working times. Some of your employees may need to come in late or leave early in order to ensure that their children can be dropped off and picked up.

In addition you should consider allowing relevant employees to work from home where practical. In some circumstances it might be necessary to give employees the day off. Remember that childcare is expensive, and that not everyone will be able to afford to pay for a childminder in order that they can go to work.

Finally, you might well be considering following the government’s advice and allowing your employees to bring their children to work for the day. But it is vital to understand that this is simply not suitable in many circumstances, and is often unsafe. As well as conducting special risk assessments and, where necessary, taking legal advice, you should contact your insurer to clarify whether or not this will impact on your cover.