Managing business when others go on strike

Why not read our latest blog post, Long-term absence dismissal not always unfair?

Most firms employ some staff with school-age children. News that schools and colleges could be closed due to strike action is not very helpful, particularly for small firms. So, how can you manage when some of your staff will be forced to look after their school age children (through no fault of their own) instead of coming to work? A little forward planning will help so that you are prepared if strikes do go ahead. Managing business when others go on strike takes forward planning and understanding.

The announcement was made in early June 2011 that the National Union of Teachers, Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the Universities and Colleges Union were to join the strike which has been called for 30 June in protest at the new pension proposals suggested for the public sector. The fact that private sectors workers have already been through this pain and are no longer able to join final salary schemes is a different story! This article discusses how small firms can manage their businesses when staff need to look after children at short notice.

Whilst the blog discusses activities at a point in time back in 2011, it could describe similar instances occurring at any time.

The Law

Legally staff have the right to unpaid time off to deal with emergencies such as a child becoming sick. However they are expected to make alternative arrangements for child care as soon as possible. Whilst the legislation concerning time off to care for sick children does not actually cover strike action by others, the concept is similar and it would be reasonable for managers to grant time off. Staff can also take holiday out of their annual leave entitlement. So long as the strikes last only a few days, many staff will cope either way.

In the case of strike action being called ten to fourteen days in advance there is time for staff to put in place a plan should the strikes go ahead. The only problem of course is that demand for child care will be hugely increased on strike days, placing much of the burden on family and friends since childminders are unlikely to have places. The problem will also be exacerbated if strikes continue beyond a few days to a point where employer goodwill runs out. For now let’s concentrate on what’s known – that unions will call strikes for a few days only at this stage.

Problem Size

Employers need to understand the size of the problem by checking how many staff would be affected by strike action and to make them aware than they need to plan for a possible problem on strike days. It may be possible to allow some staff to work productively at home for the day. This depends of course on the ages of the children since young children need more intensive supervision than those of secondary school age. It also depends on the nature of the work, though much development and learning can be done, using the strike days to advantage. If working at home for the strike day(s) is possible, this minimises the down time and builds goodwill so that disruption is minimised for all. Where working from home is not possible and you have staff with younger children who are friends it may be that one person can be nominated to look after the children, whilst the others come into work. This would benefit all concerned, no one loses pay, the children are looked after and the firm’s work continues with one person down instead of two or three.

Managers may also consider creative ideas to meet the needs of employer and employee. Hours off can be banked. Under this scheme, time off is given but for every hour off, the employee undertakes to work the missed time or to trade hours with overtime hours at some later stage. It’s wise to put a brief agreement in place in this case. Call us for advice on this option.

Commitment Before Profits

TimelessTime would counsel employers to think carefully before refusing time off. A blanket refusal sends a message that when employees have problems their employer thinks only of profits. Whilst perhaps this selfishness is legitimate, it damages the psychological contract and breaks the expectation held by employees that the employer will behave benevolently. Some form of compromise is best where neither party is overly stressed. TimelessTime has managed this situation many times before. Call us if you want to discuss options.

Strike bannerOur message is simple. If you don’t think now about the impact strike action by others will have on your firm you run the risk of simultaneously lowering your productively and your staff morale. By preparing for such eventualities you can keep, or bizarrely even gain, competitive advantage by coping well with something that will hit all employers equally.

Managing Business

Benjamin Franklin’s comment comes to mind – ‘by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail’. There is plenty time to put a strategy in place and be ready for the possibility of strike action. Strikes may be a regular feature of business over the next few months. If you don’t prepare, staff will find other ways to take the time to look after their children such as calling in sick at the last minute. You are then faced with managing heightened sickness absence and all the unpleasantness that this brings.

To find out more about how you can prepare for business disruption, read our white paper on Business Continuity Management. This paper explains the steps required to develop a robust human resources business continuity plan (BCP) which links with the overall business BCP.

Managing people is complex. Get specialist help.

Call Us Today