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CIPD urges up-skilling of management to avoid strikes


The HR body has warned that lack of dialogue over strike action will be a 'failure to make the case for change to public sector employees'.

The leading HR body has warned the coalition government against engaging in heavy-handed tactics to tackle the threat of mass public sector industrial action but rather to focus on communication and consultation to boost staff engagement.

The warning came only days after the RMT transport union tabled a motion to be heard at the TUC conference in September, calling for co-ordinated national strike action in protest at proposed government cuts to public sector jobs and pensions.
But Mike Emmott, employee relations advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said that unions would only have the power to cause disruption if staff trusted them more than they trusted their managers and leaders.
As a result, "the fundamental need is not to 'manage the trade unions'. It is to manage the employment relationship and communicate the case for change", he added. Such action included building up public sector leadership and management skills.
According to a study entitled 'Developing positive employee relations: Building productive public sector workplaces', however, a mere 16% of public sector workers currently do trust their senior leaders.
Nonetheless, 54% of those questioned said that most public sector personnel would be unwilling to lose pay by going on strike compared with 47% in the private sector. More than two out of five employees were even in favour of banning public sector workers who were involved in the delivery of essential public services from going on strike.
Nonetheless, Emmott said that it was "incumbent" on the government to consider a range of policy options open to it for reducing the risk of "disruptive and damaging" industrial action.
While banning strikes was one option, others included introducing legislation to require both sides to go to compulsory arbitration prior to any industrial action and changing balloting requirements so that such polls were counted separately for each employer.
If strike action were prohibited, however, it would be a sign of the government's "failure to make the case for change to public sector employees", Emmott warned.
"Government must strive to avoid this situation at all costs as it would mean any attempt at trying to lead through consensus had failed," he said. "For the unions too, the stakes are high – if they overplay their hand and take industrial action on issues where they don't have public sympathy, they will create conditions which make it more likely that the government will implement one of the measures outlined in this paper, aimed at blunting the threat of industrial action."
This meant in practice that, while both sides had "heavy duty weapons" at their disposal, neither had "much to gain" from deploying them. "Unions, government, frontline workers and public alike have far more to gain from a strategy focused on building trust and avoiding conflict," Emmott said.

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