Proposed changes to public sector pensions, along with ongoing austerity measures, are likely to lead to a wave of industrial action.  According to the trade unions’ schedule, this will commence on 30 November 2011 and is predicted to be on a scale not seen for decades.  However, there are some practical steps employers can take to be prepared for such events.

Pre-Strike Communications

On receipt of the notification of strike action, it is important to consider communicating with staff to inform them of the positive reasons for not taking part in the strike. A key point would be to explain to staff the fundamental nature of the healthcare service and the need to minimise impact to patient care. Staff should also be reminded that, subject to any contractual provisions to the contrary, they will not be paid if they opt to take part in the strike action.

Pre-Strike Planning

Once a strike has been scheduled for a particular day,  employers should be prepared for an increased number of requests for annual leave for that day.  Employers are entitled to refuse requests for annual leave under the Working Time Regulations, within prescribed periods.  Therefore, all requests for annual leave on the day of the strike should be carefully managed.

Furthermore, employers should begin to make contingency plans to maintain the healthcare service on the day of the strike.  Of course, it is imperative that any regulatory requirements with regard to clinical care are adhered to when considering what alternative work staff can take on outside their normal role.

Under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 it is a criminal offence for an employment business to supply an employer with agency workers to carry out the duties of staff on strike or staff covering for those on strike.  This would not prevent an employer from engaging a temporary worker directly.

Day of the Strike

A list of staff that are intending to strike should be compiled and monitored on the day.  Employers should ensure that that those not scheduled to work, on annual leave, sick leave, maternity or paternity are not included on the list.  The list can then be used to determine who should not be paid on the day of action.

A potential issue on the day of the strike is staff that claim to be off sick rather than on strike in the hope of preserving their pay.  It is often difficult to establish whether or not the sickness is genuine.  Therefore, employers may wish to request evidence of sickness from a doctor for that particular day.  Staff should be notified of this requirement in advance, especially where it is a deviation from the normal sickness and absence policy.