Private sector strike days hits highest level in over twenty years – 346,000 in last year

  • Recent high profile strikes by workers at McDonald’s and TGI Friday’s

The number of working days lost to strike action in the private sector has hit a twenty year high of 346,000 in the last year, says EMW, the commercial law firm.

The number of private sector days lost to strikes more than doubled (140%) in the past year, up from 144,000 from 2016-17. The 346,000 days lost is the highest number of days lost in a single year since 1996-97.

EMW adds that there have been a number of high-profile strikes in the private sector, in particular in the retail and leisure sectors, including:

  • Waiting staff at some TGI Fridays started industrial action in May 2018 over the restaurant group’s changes in policy over the sharing of tips
  • McDonald’s workers at branches across the UK went on strike over demands for a minimum £10-an-hour living wage in May 2018

Strikes in the public transport sector also helped increase the number of days lost to strikes, with workers on South Western Railway and Northern Rail taking industrial action.

The record high number of days lost to strikes in the private sector comes as the number of days lost in the public sector hits a record low 10,000 in the same year. This is down by over 90% from 136,000 the previous year.

EMW explains that the Trade Union Act, which came into force in March 2017, has toughened the requirements that unions needed to meet for strikes in the public sector. Amongst other measures it introduced requirements for strikes to proceed of:

  • At least 50% minimum turnout
  • In ‘important public services’, such as health and education, a minimum of 40% must be in favour of industrial action

Jon Taylor, Principal at EMW, comments:

“A twenty year high for days lost to strikes will concern many businesses.”

“There could be even more days lost to strikes with employees frequently using social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, to organise unofficial strike action through sick leave – as has been reportedly the case with one major dispute in the railways sector. Staff do not necessarily need a union to lead action and can organise coordinated absences independently.”

“In addition to newer, tougher legislation, contrasting levels of strikes in the private and public sector reflect overall changing work practices. Over the long-term, there has been a continued shift of individuals working in the private sector, along with a fall in the number of public sector union members.”


EMW adds that the latest strike figures suggest that organised strikes in the private sector are now going on for much longer. There were 144 stoppages in the last year, compared with 101 in the previous year. As a result, the number of days lost per stoppage more than doubled (117%) to 3,089 to 1,425.

Number of working days lost in the private sector to strikes hits 20 year high


*Year-end 31st May 2018

Author: Editorial Team

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