Big differences in incidence of industrial action in companies across the EU

Wednesday 18 February is the international day of action in defence of the right to strike, initiated by the International Trade Union Confederation ITUC.
Industrial action 2015

The global economic and financial crisis brought to an end an era of relative calm with regard to collective industrial action, and the highest incidence of industrial action was not surprisingly found in countries worst hit by the crisis. This is according to recent survey findings from Eurofound. Wednesday 18 February is the international day of action in defence of the right to strike, initiated by the International Trade Union Confederation ITUC.

Eurofound’s 3rd European Company Survey 2013 shows that almost one in 10 private sector establishments in the EU28 was faced with a strike lasting a day or more between 2008 and 2013.

Such strikes of a day or more were the most prevalent form of industrial action across Europe over the three years since the 2008 crisis (9% of private sector establishments), followed by work stoppages or strikes of less than a day (7%) and work-to-rule or refusal to do overtime (6%).

Across the EU, one-third of industrial action was company specific, two-thirds were ‘general’ (such as sectoral or national level issues). In company specific industrial action, a balanced agreement was reached in 44% of cases, while in 35% of cases the action ended unresolved.

Greece recorded the highest levels of work to rule (17% of establishments), strikes of less than one day (30% of establishments), strikes of more than one day (32% of establishments). Cyprus had the highest levels of blockade of occupation (16% of all establishments).

Eurofound offers comparative data on days lost to industrial action, where information is available and comparisons are possible.

Country specific focus

Comparison of industrial action in 2013 and 2012, national statistical sources, not comparable across countries:

  • Germany: Fewer days lost to strikes, from 630,000 in 2012 to 551,000 in 2012.
  • Denmark: Fewer strikes (197 in 2013 compared to 225 in 2012) but massive increase of working days lost, from 10,200 in 2012 to 930,300 in 2013. Can be attributed to lockout of teachers in April 2013.
  • Ireland: Low incidence of strike but more than doubled from 2012 to 2013 (12 strikes in 2013, 5 in 2012) with almost twice as many working days lost (14,965 in 2013, 8,486 in 2012). In the first half of 2014 the 11,000  days lost, added to the days lost due to industrial action in the first half of the year, brings the total for January-September 2014 to 19,238 – some 4,273 more than the 12-month total for 2013, with 2014 now set to the most disruptive year, due to industrial action, since 2009.
  • Poland: Fewer strikes (17 in 2013 compared to 93 in 2012) but higher incidence of working days lost (12,900 in 2013 compared to 10,100 in 2013).
  • Sweden: 2013 was a peaceful year despite a very big bargaining round. Seven conflicts occurred with 7084 working days lost due to conflict. This is much less than earlier years with similar bargaining rounds (National Mediation Office).
  • UK: Official data on labour disputes published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on 19 March showed that, during the 12 months up to and including January 2014:
    • the number of stoppages was 119 (50 public sector; 69 private sector);
    • the number of working days lost was 447,000 (363,000 in the public sector; 85,000 in the private sector;
    • and the number of workers involved was 369,000.

The number of days lost and workers involved was substantially higher than in the 12 months to January 2013, though the number of disputes was slightly lower. In the month of January 2014, there were 15 stoppages (5 public sector; 10 private sector), 8,000 working days lost (1,000 public sector; 7,000 private sector) and 25,000 workers involved.

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