Public sector strikes Q&A
Employment Law & HR update 11/11/2011
The long-running dispute over changes to public sector pensions
looks set to cause disruption across the country again at the end
of this month.
As happened in June,, public sector unions aim to co-ordinate
their strikes to coincide on a “day of action”, set for Wednesday
While it has not yet been finally decided that strikes will
actually take place, many unions have already obtained the
necessary support from their members in earlier strike ballots and
so it is important that businesses make appropriate plans to deal
with the disruption.
The strikes only directly impact public sector workers, but
private businesses are likely to be affected indirectly, either
through contracts they service or because their staff have to take
time off for childcare responsibilities.
Here our employment law and HR experts answer some of the
questions employers are likely to have.
Who is going on strike?
Several public sector unions have vote for strike action.
Importantly, these include the major teachers’ unions, and, for the
first time, the head teachers’ union, which makes it very likely
there will be widespread school closures unless the strike is
Other services which could be impacted include:
- Customs at airports and ports
- Jobcentres and social security offices
- Colleges and universities
The strike day is planned for Wednesday 30th November.
What is the impact likely to be on my
Overseas business trips may be affected by any strike action by
However, the most significant impact is likely to be widespread
school closures caused by the teachers’ and head teachers’ strike.
Many employees with children will be unable to make alternative
arrangements for childcare and may have to ask for time off.
What time off are employees allowed for
For short-term incidents such as this, there are two main
Annual holiday will be paid holiday from the employee’s annual
entitlement, and will be booked through the employers’ normal
holiday request procedures
Time Off for Dependants is unpaid leave, designed to allow
employees to deal with unplanned events which mean they have to
take time off to look after dependants such as children.
Q. I normally ask employees to give four weeks’ notice
of holidays, but the strikes are less than two weeks away. Can I
refuse holiday requests at this late stage?
A. If your written procedures require a longer notice period for
taking holidays than the employee gives, you are within your rights
to refuse the holiday request. But it might make sense on this
occasion to waive the rule, particularly as the employee might
instead take the leave anyway under the Time Off for Dependants
Q. I thought Time Off for Dependants was to deal with
unplanned events. The strike date is known in advance, so surely
the Dependants rules don’t apply?
A. Recent case law has made it clear that the Time Off for
Dependants provisions can apply to events that are known about in
advance, if the employee is unable to make alternative arrangements
Every case is different, and of course you can try and identify
whether a particular employee’s circumstances justify granting a
request. However, this may not be the best use of your time and,
since the leave is unpaid, this is usually a sufficient
disincentive for its abuse.
Q. What if employees take the time off as sick
A. This may happen if employees are left feeling they have no
choice because other types of leave have been denied them.
Where statutory sick pay rules apply, a single days’ sickness
absence is likely to be unpaid. If your business operates a more
generous scheme, check whether you have policies in place that
allow you to require additional evidence of genuine illness in
cases of doubt.
Q. How do I prepare?
The best advice is to accept that the strikes will cause genuine
difficulties for some employees and disruption to your business,
but to minimise this by preparing for the strike days in
Be aware that significant numbers of workers may need time off
for childcare and plan accordingly – find out who will be asking
for time off
- Consider giving employees the choice of taking holiday or Time
Off for Dependants on the strike days
- If you need to relax your rules on advance booking of holidays
or the number of staff allowed off at one time, make a clear
decision on this and communicate to your staff that it is a
- Consider whether temporary flexible working arrangements, such
as some home-working, could assist
As always, our employment law and HR consultants are on hand to
give further, specific, advice when you need it.
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