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Industrial action is no longer the threat it was for employers, particularly in the private sector, but trade unions are finding new ways to put employers under pressure, according to new research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

The report highlights national figures that show the average number of days lost each year due to industrial action has been under one million over the last twenty years, compared to 12.9 million in the 1970’s and 7.2 million in the 1980’s. The great majority of days lost each year have been in the public sector (92% in 2011) and over half of all days lost have been for one day only.

However, although the number of stoppages has reduced dramatically this does not mean that industrial conflict has gone away. The report highlights the changing nature of industrial action and the tactics now being deployed by trade unions keen to get their messages across. These include:

  • Ballots, and threats of ballots, for industrial action, used as a tool to persuade employers to negotiate: ONS figures show that in 2011 there were almost 1,000 ballots, of which only 149 were followed by stoppages of work.
  • Street demonstrations, with trade unions making a common cause with other community or political groups, such as on the national ‘day of action’ organised by the TUC in September 2011.
  • Threats to damage an employer’s reputation or brand, which can be quite powerful: in some cases, simply being subject to industrial action can be seen as damaging by the employer.

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