David Prosser: So where did all the strikers go?

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Outlook There was a fascinating little nugget buried at the back of the latest Office of National statistics presentation on the labour market yesterday. In April, the UK lost just 2,000 days to strike action, the lowest monthly figure since the ONS started compiling monthly data in January 1931.

A one-off? Not really – the ONS data shows there was a spike in days lost to strikes in March, presumably related to the British Airways stoppage, but that, otherwise, industrial disputes have been so infrequent this year they barely register on the graphs.

So much for the spring of discontent that some labour market analysts have been warning would engulf the country as public sector employers joined their private sector counterparts in reining in pay increases and making cutbacks. It looks as if British workers – with the odd high-profile exception – have so far accepted everything that has been thrown at them.

The danger that we may see a heating up of industrial tension remains. Though Britain has emerged from recession, profitability remains depressed in the private sector. There seems little prospect of real terms wage increases at most employers, particularly with inflation remaining so stubbornly high. In the public sector, meanwhile, the blood-letting has barely begun.

Still, the ONS's data on strike action is encouraging. It represents further evidence that the relationship between Britain's workers and their employers has matured in recent times. Both groups have sought to be practical as they have coped with the recession – one reason why part-time employment, for example, continues to grow while the number of full-time workers is still in decline.

This collegiate approach to labour relations needs to continue as the public sector is forced to confront its demons. The last thing the British economy needs is a series of painful industrial disputes. The ONS data shows they can be avoided.

Comments