The UK is facing a winter of strikes, as industrial action in the rail industry and other key sectors of the economy takes place, resulting in many working days lost to disputes over the coming days and weeks.

With high inflation and the cost-of-living crisis in the mix, many workers are wishing for better salaries.

Industrial action has so far been limited to certain parts of the economy, but this could spread. B P Collins’ employment team provides top line advice to employers on liaising with trade unions.

How should HR managers engage with unions and employee representatives?

Many employers are not obliged to engage with trade unions unless they are formally recognised to collectively bargain on behalf of a group of employees or workers. However, it is acknowledged that the current storm of high inflation, a buoyant labour market but a sluggish economy has created a challenge for HR teams when dealing with pay reviews etc. As such, some employers have decided that a collective approach to negotiation may be a better way of resolving these issues, rather than having to deal with a number of individuals and trying to find different solutions for each of them. This may not be successful but, if a binding agreement can be reached that will apply to all employees/workers, it may save a lot of management time dealing with a large number of individuals with broadly similar concerns.
How can HR work to ensure nothing gets to industrial action stage?

Union recognised employers need to engage early and constructively with trade unions. This can be a challenge where the relationship is strained but the risk of industrial action, whilst a last resort, keeps minds focussed and should encourage the parties to reach agreement on the issue of the day. This is more likely to be achieved by discussing matters in a full and open way at an early stage.
Should HR engage with employee reps and unions?

For union recognised employers, the answer is absolutely yes, as they will most likely be obliged to under their collective agreement. For those with non recognised unions in place, considering a form of informal consultation to assist with challenging situations may actually help the situation.

For further advice and information, please contact B P Collins’ employment team on 01753 889995 or email

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Jo Davis
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