EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Developments in industrial action - 2000-4

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  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Industrial action,
  • Industrial relations,
  • Date of Publication: 06 July 2005



About
Author:
Mark Carley
Institution:
SPIRE Associates

This record reviews developments in industrial action across the European Union - plus Bulgaria, Norway and Romania - over 2000-4. We find considerable differences between the countries in terms of the amount of industrial action, with Spain and Italy most 'strike-prone' and Poland and Lithuania least, and a considerably higher average level of action in the 'old' Member States than the new. However, overall, levels are generally low in historical terms. Transport/communications and industry/manufacturing are the sectors most prone to conflict, followed by the broad public sector (notably healthcare/social work and education). The most common cause of industrial action is disputes over pay.

This report from the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO), based on contributions from its national centres, seeks to provide a broad, general indication of trends in industrial action over the five-year period 2000-4 in the 25 European Union Member States, two candidate countries (Bulgaria and Romania) and Norway.

Industrial action - strikes, lock-outs etc - is one of the most high-profile aspects of industrial relations, not least in terms of media coverage and public impact and attention. It is seen in some quarters as an important indicator of whether or not industrial relations systems are functioning well, with some viewing industrial action as a sign that a system is malfunctioning, and others regarding it as a relatively normal feature of a healthy and well-functioning system. In June 2001, the European Commission issued a Communication on Employment and social policies: a framework for investing in quality. This document suggests ways of promoting 'quality' in employment and social policy and includes a set of proposed indicators for measuring such quality. One of the indicators listed for 'social dialogue and worker involvement' is 'working days lost in industrial disputes'. The idea is taken up in a 2004 report from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, entitled Quality in industrial relations: Comparative indicators, which suggests industrial disputes/action as an indicator of quality, and strikes as a 'key indicator'.

Industrial action is an area where international comparisons are notoriously difficult. This is largely because the way in which statistics are produced differs greatly between countries, with the definition of the industrial action recorded varying considerably, and the data being collected by a variety of official and other bodies. For example, as we will see below, criteria for inclusion in the statistics may vary in terms of: the length of the industrial action required before the action is recorded; the number of workers who must be involved for the action to be recorded; the nature of the industrial action involved; or whether or not the action is official or unofficial. Some countries measure hours lost due to industrial action, while others measure days. Some countries do not appear to produce any statistics for some or all of the indicators of industrial action. Acknowledging these problems, in 1993, the International Labour Organisation's International Conference of Labour Statisticians adopted a resolution setting out a uniform set of definitions for the recording of statistics related to labour disputes, but it does not appear that this has been adopted in all EU Member States.

These issues should be borne in mind in reading this report and the notes accompanying tables should be read carefully. Our objective is to provide some broad general data on recent developments, while pointing out the pitfalls involved in comparisons.

Basic industrial action indicators

Tables 1 to 3 below provide information on three basic indicators of industrial action: the number of working days lost through industrial action; the number of workers involved in industrial action; and the number of disputes. We cover the period from 2000 to 2004, though in some countries, figures for 2004 are not yet available in early 2005, or only partial figures can be obtained. The data from some countries are very patchy, and are often not published for some considerable time after the year in question. It should be noted that no gender-segregated statistics for industrial action are available from national sources.

The statistics provided are from official public sources in most cases: national statistical offices in the cases of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and the UK; labour ministries in the cases of Cyprus, France, Hungary, Malta, Portugal, Romania and Spain; and other relevant public bodies in Germany and Sweden. Such official statistics seem to be absent in the other countries, and we provide data - often only partial - provided by trade unions or related bodies for Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia. The figures for Estonia are estimates based on reports from trade unions, public authorities and other sources, while those for Luxembourg are expert estimates. There appear to be no official or other reliable sources of data at all for Greece and Latvia (in the latter case, largely because strikes have been so rare, though this may be starting to change).

As mentioned above, the definition of the industrial action recorded in the statistics provided varies considerably. To give some examples:

  • in many countries - examples include Estonia, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Spain - the only form of industrial action recorded in the statistics is strikes. It seems that other forms, such as lock-outs by employers, are explicitly included in fewer cases, such as, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK;
  • in cases such as Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK, both official/lawful and unofficial/unlawful action is counted in the statistics. By contrast, only official action is recorded in Austria, while in Lithuania only strikes (and warning strikes) announced in line with the terms of the relevant legislation are included. In Romania only 'disputes of interest', as defined in the relevant legislation (essentially disputes related to collective bargaining over new agreements), are counted;
  • while most countries do not appear to impose a minimum duration for the inclusion of action in the statistics, only stoppages lasting at least one day are recorded in Ireland (where there must also be a total loss of 10 or more person-days), Norway and the UK, and only action lasting more than two hours in Cyprus. Short warning strikes (as defined by law) are explicitly included in the data for Estonia and Lithuania but are not generally reported and thus included in the data for Germany;
  • while most do not, a few countries exclude action involving fewer than a certain number of workers - eg 10 in the UK;
  • the figures do not always cover the whole economy. The official statistics do not include all or some of the public sector in Portugal and France, for instance. The trade union statistics used for Slovenia (in the absence of official data) refer only to strikes organised by affiliates of the Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS) in individual companies and are a useful (though not complete) indicator only for production industry. However, they exclude certain service sectors, mainly public services (health, education, railways etc) where ZSSS has few members and any strikes are organised mainly at sectoral or occupational level, and ignore strikes organised by (major) non-affiliates in sectors such as finance and transport/communications, as well as not counting 'general' strikes; and
  • finally, it might be noted that collection methods differ. For example, the statistics are based on reports from employers in Germany, from larger public and private employers and employers’ associations in Denmark, and from employers’ associations and in the media in Finland. By contrast, in Italy data on conflicts are provided by local police offices.
Table 1. Working days lost through industrial action, 2000-4
Country 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004*
Austria 2,947 0 9,306 1,305,466 178
Belgium nd nd 60,954 nd nd
Cyprus 1,136 4,778 7,051 6,901 nd
Denmark 124,800 59,500 193,600 55,100 76,400
Estonia 1,088 5 37 20,192 1,548
Finland 253,838 60,645 74,985 66,136 40,233
France 807,558 691,914 nd nd nd
Germany 10,776 26,833 310,149 163,281 50,673
Hungary 636,267 11,676 915 844 8,022
Ireland 97,046 114,613 21,257 37,482 8,444
Italy 884,142 1,026,000 4,860,857 1,874,714 690,571
Lithuania 10,394 2,167 0 0 0
Luxembourg 2,000 0 500 2,800 6,000
Malta 2,564 2,792 744 3,313.5 nd
Netherlands 9,400 45,100 245,500 15,000 nd
Norway 496,568 619 150,775 962 141,179
Poland 73,400 4,200 100 6,600 nd
Portugal 40,500 41,600 108,100 53,400 nd
Romania 565,422 1,114 34,223 22,247 nd
Slovenia 6,751 25,041 22,716 14,408 nd
Spain 3,577,301 1,916,987 4,938,535 789,043 928,151
Sweden 272 11,098 838 627,541 15,282
UK 499,000 525,000 1,323,000 499,000 904,900

Source: EIRO.

* Partial figures only in some cases - see notes.

The figures in table 1 (no data are available for Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Greece, Latvia and Slovakia) should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • Austria: figures from the Chamber of Labour (Arbeiterkammer) and Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB).
  • Belgium: figure from National Institute of Statistics (Institut National de Statistique/Nationaal Instituut voor de Statistiek, INS/NIS);
  • Cyprus: figures from Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance;
  • Denmark: figures, Statistics Denmark, cover all disputes.
  • Estonia: estimates based on data from the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (Eesti Ametiühingute Keskliit, EAKL), public conciliator's office and media reports.
  • Finland: figures from Statistics Finland.
  • France: figures from National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques, INSEE) and the Ministry of Employment's Office for Research and Statistics (Direction de l'animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques du ministère de l'Emploi, DARES); only strikes included and parts of the public sector excluded.
  • Germany: figures from Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit).
  • Hungary: figures, from the Ministry of Employment and Labour (Foglalkoztatáspolitikai és Munkaügyi Minisztérium, FMM), cover strikes only.
  • Ireland: figures from the Central Statistical Office (disputes are included if they involve a work stoppage lasting for at least one day and the total time lost is 10 or more person days); 2004 figure refers to first nine months of year only.
  • Italy: figures from National Institute of Statistics (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica, Istat); 2004 figure is provisional; relevant Istat statistics refer to hours lost and figures in the table are an estimate, based on the assumption of a seven-hour day; figures include both conflicts 'connected with the employment relationship' and conflicts 'extraneous to the employment relationship' (ie political strikes).
  • Lithuania: figures, from Statistics Lithuania (Lietuvos statistikos departamentas), cover strikes and warning strikes.
  • Luxembourg: figures are estimates.
  • Malta: figures from Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER).
  • Netherlands: figures from Central Statistical Office (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS).
  • Norway: figures, from Statistics Norway, cover strike action that lasts for at least one day.
  • Poland: figures, from Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS), refer to strikes.
  • Portugal: figures from Ministry of Labour and Solidarity.
  • Romania: figures, from Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family, refer to 'disputes of interest'.
  • Slovenia: figures, from Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS), cover only strikes organised by its affiliates in individual companies (thus excluding both large parts of the economy and strikes with a wider scope); relevant ZSSS statistics refer to hours lost and figures in the table are an estimate, based on the assumption of an eight-hour day.
  • Spain: figures, from Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales, MTAS) labour statistics, refer to working days lost due to strikes; 2004 figure is for first eight months only.
  • Sweden: figures from the National Mediation Office (Medlingsinstitutet).
  • UK: figures, from Office for National Statistics (ONS), exclude stoppages involving fewer than 10 workers, of less than one day, or not directly linked to terms and conditions of employment (negligible in practice).
Table 2. Number of workers involved in industrial action, 2000-4
Country 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004*
Austria 19,439 0 6,305 779,182 30
Bulgaria 15,000 20,000 305,892 79,000 560,000
Cyprus 180 1,699 3,496 3,535 nd
Denmark 75,656 54,752 110,854 44,365 75,710
Estonia 8,700 40 299 20,192 258
Finland 84,092 21,715 70,867 91,866 23,679
France 222,241 142,608 nd nd nd
Germany 7,429 60,948 428,303 57,205 101,419
Hungary 40,111 23.135 3,527 3,376 8,412
Ireland 28,192 32,168 3,553 3,567 1,998
Italy 687,000 1,125,000 5,442,000 2,484,557 nd
Lithuania 3,303 1,703 0 0 0
Luxembourg 250 0 100 2,800 6,000
Malta 5,000 1,859 678 1,945 nd
Netherlands 10,300 37,400 28,600 10,800 nd
Norway 93,889 29 9,865 95 9,873
Poland 7,900 1,400 10 3,000 nd
Portugal 38,800 26,100 80,200 30,300 nd
Romania 236,906 270,587 165,492 142,059 177,220
Slovakia 0 0 0 18,326 nd
Slovenia 1,960 1,916 1,880 1,627 nd
Spain 2,061,349 1,242,458 4,528,210 728,481 673,113
Sweden 163 9,831 711 80,538 2,449
UK 183,000 180,000 943,000 151,000 292,700

Source: EIRO.

* Partial figures only in some cases - see notes.

Sources and notes as for table 1 (no data are available for Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece and Latvia), with following additional comments

  • Bulgaria: figures from the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and (for 2003 and 2004) the Confederation of Labour Podkrepa (CL Podkrepa); the figures are minima and include workers involved in protest rallies as well as strikes.
  • Ireland: 2004 figure is for first nine months of year only.
  • Spain: 2004 figure is for first eight months of year only.
  • Slovakia: figures from Slovak Statistical Office (Štatistický úrad Slovenskej republiky, ŠÚ SR). 2003 figure excludes a one-hour nationwide warning strike organised by trade unions.
Table 3. Number of industrial disputes, 2000-4
Country 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004*
Cyprus 166 236 174 245 nd
Czech Republic 24 27 20 36 34
Denmark 1,081 954 1,349 681 804
Estonia 39 21 17 12 20
Finland 96 84 76 112 82
France 1,563 1,089 nd nd nd
Hungary 28 26 25 40 27
Ireland 39 26 27 24 8
Italy 966 746 616 708 nd
Luxembourg 1 0 1 1 1
Malta 12 14 5 8 nd
Netherlands 23 16 16 14 nd
Norway 29 3 16 5 12
Poland 44 11 1 24 11
Portugal 250 208 250 170 nd
Romania 141 103 114 121 79
Slovakia 0 3 3 1 2
Slovenia 19 16 19 7 nd
Spain 727 729 684 674 457
Sweden 2 20 10 11 9
UK 212 194 146 133 130

Source: EIRO.

* Partial figures only in some cases - see notes.

Sources and notes are as for table 1 (no data are available for Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Latvia and Lithuania), with the following additional comments.

  • Czech Republic: figures, from Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (Českomoravská konfederace odborových svazů, ČMKOS), refer to its affiliates only.
  • Estonia: figures from public conciliator's office.
  • Ireland: 2004 figure is for first nine months of year only.
  • Poland: 2004 figure is an estimate.
  • Slovakia: figures from sectoral trade union organisations.
  • Spain: 2004 figure is for first eight months of year only.

The figures in Tables 1 to 3 provide some indications of trends in individual countries, but they are of little use for purposes of international comparisons. The very different sizes of the countries mean that the absolute figures give little indication of the extent to which countries are strike-prone or otherwise in comparison with others. The only measure which enables this to be compared is the number of working days lost per 1,000 employees. Table 4 below provides data on this indicator (based on estimates in many cases).

Table 4. Working days lost through industrial action per 1,000 employees, 2000-4
Country 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004*
Austria 0.9 0 2.9 410.0 0.1
Belgium nd nd 17.6 nd nd
Cyprus 4.5 19.1 28.2 27.6 nd
Denmark 50.7 24.2 78.6 22.3 31.0
Estonia 1.9 0 0.1 34.3 2.6
Finland 123.2 29.4 36.4 32.1 19.5
France 54.0 45.0 32.0 31.0 nd
Germany 0.3 0.8 9.6 5.1 1.6
Hungary 236.0 4.0 0.4 0.3 3.0
Ireland 65.4 77.2 14.3 25.2 7.6
Italy 55.1 63.9 302.9 116.8 43.0
Lithuania 10.2 2.2 0 0 0
Luxembourg 9.5 0 2.3 12.0 24.3
Malta nd 18.9 5.0 22.3 nd
Netherlands 1.3 6.3 34.2 2.1 nd
Norway 236.6 0.3 71.2 0.5 67.1
Poland 7.4 0.4 0 0.7 nd
Portugal 17.0 11.0 33.0 12.0 nd
Romania 122.4 0 7.5 0.7 nd
Slovenia 8.7 32.4 29.4 18.6 nd
Spain 292.5 151.0 377.1 58.1 35.6
Sweden 0.1 2.9 0.2 162.4 4.3
UK 20.0 20.0 51.0 19.0 34.0

* In some cases, extrapolations from partial figures only - see notes.

Source: EIRO.

The figures provided in table 4 for Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Sweden are rough estimates calculated by dividing total working days lost by number of employees (as stated in Eurostat's 2003 labour force survey). Otherwise, sources and notes are as for table 1, with the following additional comments.

  • Austria: figures are national estimates.
  • Germany: figures from Cologne Institute for Business Research (Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln, IW).
  • Ireland: 2004 figure is extrapolation of figure for first nine months of year only.
  • Italy: 2004 figure is based on provisional figure for working days lost.
  • Malta: based on the number of workers in June of each year, as recorded in labour force survey; comparable data not available for 2000 as the survey started only in 2001.
  • Slovenia: figures used do not include all working days lost - see note to table 1.
  • Spain: figures based on labour force survey figures for employees in second quarter of each year; 2004 figure is extrapolation of figure for first eight months of year only.
  • Sweden: 2004 figure is extrapolation of figure for first 11 months of year only.

Notable points highlighted by table 4 include the following:

  • the very low levels of industrial action (and indeed absence in some years) in a number of the new EU Member States - notably Estonia, Hungary (except in 2000), Lithuania and Poland - and several 'old' ones - Austria (except in 2003), Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden (except in 2003);
  • the fact that increases in dispute activity often follow the course of the bargaining cycle. For example, the multi-year cycles in Denmark and Norway are mirrored in the industrial action figures, with upsurges in the years of large-scale bargaining rounds;
  • the lack of any consistent trend in most countries, with figures often rising and falling from year to year. These annual variations can be enormous - with countries experiencing major peaks in action before and after years of relatively lower action including Austria in 2003, Italy in 2002 and Sweden in 2003; and
  • the very different pictures in the broadly comparable (in size terms) 'big five' old EU Member States - France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. Italy and especially Spain show considerably higher levels of industrial action than France, the UK and Germany (notably so), though both Italy and Spain appear to have experienced a rapid fall in 2003 and 2004. The largest of the new Member States, Poland, has a consistently low level of action, below that of even Germany.

Figure 1 below gives the average figures for working days lost through industrial action per 1,000 employees over 2000-3 (insufficient data are available for the inclusion of 2004), for 22 countries where the relevant information is available.

Figure 1. Working days lost through industrial action per 1,000 employees, annual average 2000-3

Figure 1. Working days lost through industrial action per 1,000 employees, annual average 2000-3

Source: EIRO. * Average of three years only. ** Average whole EU (20 countries), average new EU Member States (7 countries), average old EU Member States (13 countries)

On average over 2000-3, the highest levels of industrial action were found in Spain (219.7 days lost per 1,000 workers) and Italy (134.7 days lost) and the lowest in Poland (2.1 days lost) and Lithuania (3.1 days lost). The overall average for all 22 countries was 45.2 days lost, while that for the EU was slightly lower at 44.2. Within the EU, the figure in the new Member States (18.9 days lost) was only about a third of that in the old Member States (57.8 days).

For comparison, over 1998-2002, the annual average for working days lost through industrial action stood at 47 in the USA (ie around the EU 25 average) and only one day in Japan (see Labour Market Trends, April 2004, UK Office for National Statistics - based on ILO and OECD data). The overall OECD average was 49 days (TN0502102F).

For the 2000-3 four-year period, the 22 European countries can be divided into three groups:

  • countries where industrial action was at low levels, with an average of under 20 working days lost per year for every 1,000 employees - Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal;
  • countries where industrial action was at moderate levels, with an average of 20-70 working days lost per year for every 1,000 workers - Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden and the UK; and
  • countries where industrial action was at relatively high levels, with an average of over 70 working days lost per year for every 1,000 workers - Austria, Italy, Norway and Spain.

However, the average figures for such a short period cannot give a proper picture of national situations and of trends, with individual years, which may be highly unusual, affecting them disproportionately. For example, Austria has traditionally had a very low level of industrial action, but 2003 saw strike activity reaching its highest level since the Second World War. This resulted from large-scale trade union mobilisation, mainly in opposition to government reform plans related to public pensions and railway restructuring (AT0411202F). As a result, Austria recorded the highest annual figure (410) for working days lost per 1,000 workers of any country over 2000-4, and its 2000-3 annual average was inflated to over 100 days. Over 1998-2002, Austria's annual average had stood at only 0.8 days. Similarly, Sweden had an annual average of around five working days lost over 1998-2002, but 2003 witnessed a pay bargaining conflict (among blue-collar municipal workers) which was the largest in a decade and pushed the 2000-3 annual average up to over 40 days lost. Similar situations can be seen in Finland (2000), Hungary (2000), Norway (2000) and Romania (2000).

Although there are considerable differences between the levels of industrial action in the various countries, it should be noted that levels of industrial action throughout the EU are generally at a low level, when compared with previous years. In the first half of the 1980s (according to Eurostat figures), countries such as Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK averaged over 400 days lost per 1,000 workers annually, while Denmark, France, Luxembourg and Portugal averaged over 100. While levels of activity generally dropped off in the second half of the 1980s, Greece and Spain still averaged over 600 days lost annually, while Ireland, Italy and the UK averaged over 100. The early 2000s have thus clearly been a period of relative industrial peace in many countries.

Sectors most affected

Industrial action is rarely spread evenly through the economy, often being concentrated in particular sectors, either generally or in particular years. Table 5 below indicates the three sectors most affected by industrial action each year over 2000-4 (data are not available for all years in all cases) in each of the 27 countries for which any information is available, along with the percentage of all days lost through industrial action accounted for by each sector (where available).

Table 5. Sectors most affected by industrial action, 2000-4
Country/Year 1 2 3
Austria
2000 Federal railways Vienna local transport -
2001 - - -
2002 Public education Post buses Federal railways
2003 (All sectors) Federal railways Austrian Airlines
2004 Post buses Austrian Airlines .
Belgium
2002 Industrial manufacturing (52%) Transport and communication (13%) Real estate, research and development and processing activities (10%)
Bulgaria
2002 Education Mining Railways
2003 Tobacco production - -
2004 Education Mining Healthcare
Cyprus
2000 Hotels - -
2001 Construction Services 'Economic organisations'
2002 Transport Hotels and electrical installations (equal)
2003 Services Construction -
Czech Republic
2000 Metalworking - -
2001 Metalworking - -
2002 Metalworking - -
2003 Metalworking Wood / forestry / water Chemicals
2004 Metalworking Wood / forestry / water Public sector
Denmark
2000 Food industry (22%) Metalworking (18%) Transport (14%) (more days lost in local government, but public sector not included in overall figures until 2002)
2001 Food industry (34%) Metalworking (24%) Transport (10%)
2002 Public sector (42%) Metalworking (17%) Food industry (16%)
2003 Metalworking (25%) Public sector (21%) Food industry (20%)
2004 Food industry (39%) Metalworking (22%) Transport (11%)
Estonia
2000 Healthcare - -
2001 Railways - -
2002 Railways Road transport -
2003 Education - -
2004 Railways Civil service -
Finland
2000 Paper industry (54%) Transport (28%) Forestry (8%)
2001 Healthcare (76%) Metalworking (11%) -
2002 Construction (67%) Metalworking (14%) Finance (11%)
2003 Paper industry (27%) Metalworking (19%) Forestry (15%)
2004 Metalworking Paper industry -
France
2000 Civil service (65%) Transport (28%) -
2001 Civil service (61%) Transport (39%) -
Germany
2000 Printing and media (38%) Commerce (19%) Transport and communication (5%)
2001 Car manufacturing (69%) Transport and communication (18%) Machinery manufacture (6%)
2002 Car manufacturing (47%) Machinery manufacture (18%) Office machinery manufacture (5%)
2003 Car manufacturing (79%) Steel (13%) Commerce (1%)
2004 Car manufacturing (69%) Machinery manufacture (16%) Printing and media (8%)
Hungary
2000 Healthcare Manufacturing Transport
2001 Education Manufacturing Transport
2002 Manufacturing Transport Education
2003 Healthcare Manufacturing Education
2004 Healthcare Transport Manufacturing
Ireland
2000 Transport Teaching Nursing
2001 Teaching (65%) Transport / communication (14%) Manufacturing (13%)
2002 Manufacturing (14%) Health / social work (6%) -
2004 (first nine months) Manufacturing (28%) Finance and other business services (27%) -
Italy (number of strikes)
2000 Manufacturing Transport Public administration
2001 Manufacturing Transport Public administration
2002 Manufacturing Transport Finance
2003 Manufacturing Transport / telecommunications Public administration
2004 (first nine months) Finance (59%) Transport (20%) -
Latvia
2004 Healthcare - -
Lithuania
2000 Education (93%) Transport, storage and communication (7%) -
2001 Education (94%) Manufacturing (6%) .
2002 - - -
2003 - - -
2004 - - -
Luxembourg
2000 Private security - -
2001 - - -
2002 Transport - -
2003 Transport - -
2004 Steel industry - -
Malta
2000 Banking (66%) Public sector (14%) Private sector (12%)
2001 Independent statutory bodies (88%) Public sector (11%) Private sector (0.4%)
2002 Private sector (92%) Public sector (8%) -
Netherlands
2000 Industry (36%) Transport / communication (35%) Government and education (28%)
2001 Non-commercial services (52%) Commercial services (29%) Building / construction (19%)
Norway
2000 Manufacturing (58%) Construction (19%) Health / social services (11%)
2001 Hotels / restaurants (84%) Manufacturing (16%) -
2002 Hotels / restaurants (46%) Manufacturing (29%) Health / social services (13%)
2003 - - -
2004 Oil / gas production (30%) Construction (28%) Transport (24%)
Poland
2003 Healthcare Steelworks Coalmining
2004 Railways Public road transport Coalmining
Portugal
2000 Transport and communication Manufacturing Real estate and other services
2001 Manufacturing Transport and communication Real estate and other services
2002 Manufacturing Transport and communication Fishing
2003 Transport and communication Manufacturing Health and social services
Romania (number of workers involved)
2000 Machinery and equipment Manufacture of basic metals and fabricated metal products Transport, storage and communication
2001 Transport, storage and communication Machinery and equipment Manufacture of basic metals and fabricated metal products
2002 Transport, storage and communication Machinery and equipment Manufacture of basic metals and fabricated metal products
2003 Machinery and equipment Transport, storage and communication Manufacture of basic metals and fabricated metal products
2004 Transport, storage and communication Manufacture of basic metals and fabricated metal products Machinery and equipment
Slovakia
2001 Metalworking - -
2002 - - -
2003 Railways - -
2004 Public bus transport Paper and pulp production -
Slovenia (ZSSS member unions)
2000 Metalworking and electrical industry (38%) Construction (29%) Textiles and leather processing (18%)
2001 Metalworking and electrical industry (48%) Retail (45%) Textiles and leather processing (6%)
2002 Textiles and leather processing (70%) Retail (10%) Metalworking and electrical industry (10%)
2003 Textiles and leather processing (81%) Metalworking and electrical industry (11%) Agriculture and food production (7%)
Spain
2000 Construction (40%) Retail and domestic repairs (14%) Public administration, defence, social security etc (11%)
2001 Construction (30%) Metalworking (16%) Manufacture of office machinery, IT equipment etc (13%)
2002 Metalworking (3%) Transport by land and pipeline (3%) Medical and veterinary activities, social services (2%)
2003 Metalworking (38%) Transport by land and pipeline (11%) Auxiliary transport activities, travel agencies, communications (6%)
2004 (first eight months) Construction (33%) Metalworking (19%) Education (10%)
Sweden
2000 Pharmacies Theatres -
2001 Journalism Railways -
2002 - - -
2003 Railways Electrical work Municipalities
2004 Transport Electrical work -
UK
2000 Transport / storage /communication (20%) Health / social work (12%) Public administration (9%)
2001 Public administration (41%) Transport / storage / communication (20%) Health (14%)
2002 Public administration (37%) Education (28%) Health (11%)
2003 Public administration (28%) Education (26%) Transport / storage /communication (25%)
2004 Public administration (48%) Education (42%) Transport / storage /communication (5%)

Source: EIRO. Notes - see table 1 above, data for some countries based on information from trade unions etc or expert estimates.

Across the countries covered (and allowing for differing definitions of sectors), the sectors most affected by industrial action over 2000-4 were probably transport and communications (with railways often playing a major role) and industry/manufacturing (with metalworking particularly prominent within this category). The broad public sector (with healthcare and social work and education particularly prominent) was close behind. Construction is also important in countries such as Cyprus and Spain. Private sector services did not figure very often in the top three sectors in most countries, though with exceptions such as hotels/restaurants in Cyprus and Norway, finance in Finland, Ireland, Italy and Malta, and commerce/retail in Germany and Slovenia. In some countries, particular sectors which were not prominent elsewhere featured highly in particular years, such as mining in Bulgaria and Poland, forestry in the Czech Republic and Finland, fishing in Portugal and oil/gas production in Norway. Although the nature of the data does not always allow the private and public sectors to be distinguished, it appears that the distribution of industrial action between the two varies considerably between the countries. For example, countries where a relatively high proportion of the most strike-prone industries are in the public sector include Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the UK, while the private sector seems more prominent in countries such as Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Slovenia and Spain.

Table 5 indicates the extent to which a particular sector may dominate the industrial action figures in a particular year. For example, a single sector accounted for half or more of all working days lost in: Belgium in 2002 (manufacturing); Finland in 2000 (paper industry), 2001 (healthcare) and 2002 (construction); France in 2000-1 (civil service); Germany in 2001 and 2003 (car manufacturing); Ireland in 2001 (education); Lithuania in 2000-1 (education); Malta in 2000 (banking) and 2001 (independent statutory bodies); the Netherlands in 2001 (non-commercial services); Norway in 2000 (hotels/restaurants) and 2001 (manufacturing); and Slovenia in 2002-3 (textiles and leather processing).

Reasons for industrial action

Industrial action statistics or other sources from 22 countries allow the main causes of industrial action to be identified. Table 6 below indicates the three main cause for industrial action in these countries over 2000-4 (data are not available for all years in all cases) along with the percentage of all days lost through industrial action accounted for by each reason (where available).

Table 6. Main causes of industrial action, 2000-4
Country/Year 1 2 3
Austria
2000 Government welfare reform plans - -
2001 - - -
2002 Government education spending cutbacks Rail restructuring Privatisation of post-bus company
2003 Government pension reform Rail restructuring Pay (Austrian Airlines)
2004 Privatisation of post-bus company Pay (Austrian Airlines) -
Bulgaria
2000 Incomes policy Unemployment Fixed-term contracts
2001 Pay levels Unemployment Wage arrears
2002 Unemployment Pay levels Privatisation
2003 Government economic and social policy Pay levels -
2004 Labour law changes Pay levels Labour and union rights
Czech Republic .
2000 Bargaining over collective agreements Pay Job losses
2001 Bargaining over collective agreements Pay Job losses
2002 Bargaining over collective agreements Pay Job losses
2003 Bargaining over collective agreements Pay Job losses
2004 Bargaining over collective agreements Pay Job losses
Denmark*
2000 Pay (58.1%) Dismissals (7.1%) Political issues (6.5%)
2001 Pay (51.1%) Dismissals (8.1%) Political issues (5.5%)
2002 Pay (32.1%) Dismissals (30.0%) Political issues (7.0%)
2003 Pay (43.8%) Dismissals (8.1%) Political issues (4.8%)
2004 Pay (30.0%) Political issues (24.0%) Sympathy action (12.0%)
Estonia
2000 Pay - -
2001 Pay - -
2002 Pay - -
2003 Pay - -
2004 Pay - -
Finland
2000 Collective bargaining - -
2001 Collective bargaining - -
2002 Collective bargaining Foreign labour -
2003 Collective bargaining - -
2004 Dismissals Part-time recruitment -
France
2000 Pay (33%) Working time (29%) Working conditions (15%)
2001 Pay (37%) Job losses (21%) Working time (15%)
2002 Pay (39%) Job losses (29%) Working conditions (21%)
2003 Pay (37%) Job losses (27%) Working conditions (20%)
Hungary
2000 Pay Plant closures -
2001 Pay Plant closures -
2002 Pay Privatisation Plant closures
2003 Pay Plant closures Job losses
2004 Pay Privatisation Job losses
Italy (conflicts connected with the employment relationship only)
2000 'Economic and regulatory' demands (49%) 'Other causes' (eg non-fulfilment of agreements) (12%) Dismissals (8%)
2001 Renewal of sectoral agreements (60%) 'Economic and regulatory' demands (23%) 'Other causes' (eg non-fulfilment of agreements) (11%)
2002 Renewal of sectoral agreements (35%) 'Economic and regulatory' demands (22%) 'Other causes' (eg non-fulfilment of agreements) (20%)
2003 Renewal of sectoral agreements (56%) 'Economic and regulatory' demands (24%) 'Other causes' (eg non-fulfilment of agreements) (13%)
2004 Renewal of sectoral agreements (40%) 'Economic and regulatory' demands (32%) 'Other causes' (eg non-fulfilment of agreements) (14%)
Latvia
2004 Pay - -
Lithuania
2000-4 Pay (including wage arrears) - -
Luxembourg
2000 Workplace safety - -
2001 - - -
2002 - - -
2003 Compliance with collective agreement - -
2004 Restructuring - -
Netherlands
2000 Collective agreements (52%) Pay and 'other' (48%) -
2001 Collective agreements (77%) - -
2002 Collective agreements (100%) - -
2003 'Other' (69%) - -
Norway
2000 Collective bargaining - -
2001 - - -
2002 Collective bargaining - -
2003 - - -
Poland
2003 Wage arrears Job losses -
2004 Wage arrears Privatisation -
Portugal
2000 Pay (56.1%) Working time / conditions (16.9%) Employment and training (8.0%)
2001 Pay (58.0%) Working time / conditions (20.9%) Employment and training (8.0%)
2002 Pay (49.8%) Working time / conditions (18.7%) Employment and training (10.4%)
2003 Pay (48.2% ) Working time / conditions (23.2% ) Employment and training (14.2%)
Romania
2000 Pay (48.8%) Working time (2.4%) Working conditions (2.4%)
2001 Pay (47.1%) Working time (3.9%) Working conditions (11.1%)
2002 Pay (47.7%) Working time (8.7%) Working conditions (8.1%)
2003 Pay (55.0%) Working time (10.0%) -
2004 Pay (48.1%) Working time (5.1%) -
Slovakia
2001 Pay Employment -
2002 Labour law reforms Government social policy and budget -
2003 Rail restructuring Overall government policy -
2004 Transport subsidies Pay -
Slovenia (ZSSS member unions)
2000 Wage arrears 'Other' Unpaid holiday bonuses
2001 Wage arrears Pay rise demands Unpaid holiday bonuses / late payment of wages
2002 Wage arrears 'Other' Late payment of wages / pay not in line with collective agreement
2003 Wage arrears Pay not in line with collective agreement / 'other' .
Spain
2000 Not arising from collective bargaining (57%) Issue not strictly linked to employment relationship (24%) Arising from collective bargaining (19%)
2001 Not arising from collective bargaining (69%) Arising from collective bargaining (31%) -
2002 Issue not strictly linked to employment relationship (88%) Arising from collective bargaining (6%) Not arising from collective bargaining (5%)
2003 Arising from collective bargaining (63%) Not arising from collective bargaining (37%) -
2004 (first eight months) Arising from collective bargaining (87%) Not arising from collective bargaining (12%) Issue not strictly linked to employment relationship (2%)
Sweden
2000 Pay Working time -
2001 Authors' rights (journalism) Bargaining arrangements -
2002 - - -
2003 Bargaining arrangements Working environment Pay
2004 Pay Working environment -
UK
2000 Pay (77%) Redundancy (11%) Staffing and work allocation (5%)
2001 Working conditions and supervision (33%) Pay (27%) Redundancy (17%)
2002 Pay (89%) Working conditions and supervision (8%) Redundancy (1%)
2003 Pay (84%) Working time (13%) Staffing and work allocation (1%)
2004 Pay (84%) Redundancy (12%) Working time (2%)

Source: EIRO. Notes - see table 1 above. * Figures, from DA, relate only to unofficial strikes in main DA/LO private sector bargaining area.

Unsurprisingly, the number one reason for industrial action is undoubtedly pay. It features specifically among the leading issues in all countries but Luxembourg, Finland, Spain - and in the latter two cases (plus the Czech Republic, Italy and Norway) pay can probably be assumed to be involved in many of the collective bargaining disputes which are prominent causes of action. Pay is consistently the leading single issue in industrial action in Denmark, Estonia, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and the UK. While wage increase demands are the main issue under the pay heading, wage arrears are important in countries such as Poland, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

Employment is probably the next most important reason for industrial action (as in Portugal and Slovakia), especially when dismissals (prominent in Denmark and the UK, and to a lesser extent Italy), redundancies and job losses (prominent in the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Poland) and unemployment (as in Bulgaria) are included in this category. Plant closures and company restructuring, which are important causes in countries such as Hungary and Luxembourg, probably also fall under this broad heading. The next most common reason is broadly 'political' issues, with general or specific (eg social security, labour law reforms, privatisations and sector restructuring) government policies being the main cause of action in Austria and Slovakia and a major one in Bulgaria and Hungary. Unspecified political issues are consistently the third most important cause in Denmark, while political matters presumably make up many of the issues not strictly linked to the employment relationship that are a major grounds for industrial action in Spain . Working time and conditions (prominent to varying degrees in France, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK) come some way behind. Within these overall trends, there are a number of national peculiarities, such as the prominence in some years of the working environment in Sweden or foreign labour in Finland.

Dispute resolution

Most countries examined here have some mechanisms for the resolution of industrial disputes, provided either voluntarily or compulsorily by the state or the social partners themselves. Although definitions vary (and can be blurred), the main forms of dispute resolution are:

  • arbitration - whereby a third party makes a binding decision on an issue on which the parties cannot agree;
  • mediation - whereby a third party takes an active role (more so than in conciliation), usually making recommendations for the resolution of the dispute; and
  • conciliation - whereby a third party merely attempts to bring the parties to a dispute together and helps them reach a mutually acceptable solution.

While most of the 28 countries practice one or more of these forms of dispute resolution, statistics on their use are patchy. Tables 7 to 9 below give the relevant figures on referrals to arbitration, mediation and conciliation for those countries where data are available. Making any kind of cross-border comparison of the statistics in this area is very difficult, given the very different nature of national dispute-resolution mechanisms and the industrial relations systems in which they operate (eg, a company-based bargaining system might be expected to generate many more referrals than a sector-based one). The tables do, however, suggest a number of national trends, such as an increasing use of arbitration in Greece and Ireland, or of mediation in Spain.

For the countries which use more than one form of dispute resolution it appears that: mediation is more commonly used than arbitration in Cyprus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Norway, Slovakia; mediation is more commonly used than conciliation in France; mediation and conciliation are used fairly equally in Estonia; conciliation is more commonly used than arbitration in Ireland ; conciliation is used more often than mediation in Finland; conciliation is more commonly used than arbitration or mediation in Luxembourg and Romania; conciliation is more frequent than mediation, which in turn is more common than arbitration, in Spain; and conciliation is more frequent than arbitration, which in turn is more common than mediation, in the UK. (Mark Carley, SPIRE Associates)

Table 7. Number of disputes referred to arbitration, 2000-4
Country 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Bulgaria - - - - 2
Cyprus 2 4 1 1 2
Czech Republic 2 1 0 1 2
Denmark 15 20 nd nd nd
Greece nd 40 56 64 66
Hungary 2 1 0 1 1
Ireland 779 884 940 1,020 nd
Luxembourg 0 0 0 0 0
Norway 4 0 3 0 2
Romania 1 1 2 4 nd
Slovakia 0 0 0 1 2
Spain 6 0 4 10 nd
UK 65 settled 62 68 80 60

Source: EIRO.

The figures in table 7 should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • Bulgaria: figures refer to arbitration by the National Institute for Arbitration and Conciliation (NIAC), which was established by law in 2003; before 2004, voluntary branch and sectoral arbitration and conciliation commissions dealt with 10-30 cases a year.
  • Cyprus: figures from Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance.
  • Denmark: figures, from the Confederation of Danish Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO), cover only the LO/Danish Employers’ Confederation (Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) bargaining area.
  • Greece: figures from Mediation and Arbitration Service (OMED).
  • Hungary: figures refer to arbitration by Labour Mediation and Arbitration Service.
  • Ireland: figures refer to referrals to the Labour Court
  • Norway: figures, from State Mediator's Office, refer to compulsory arbitration.
  • Romania: figures from Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family.
  • Slovakia: figures from Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family.
  • Spain: figures refer to arbitration cases referred to the Intersectoral Mediation and Arbitration Service (Servicio Interconfederal de Mediación y Arbitraje, SIMA).
  • UK: figures, from Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), refer to cases received, except for 2000 figure, which is for cases settled; 2000 figure is for 1999-2000; 2001 figure is for 2000-1; 2002 figure is for 2001-2; 2003 figure is for 2002-3; 2004 figure is for 2003-4.
Table 8. Number of disputes referred to mediation, 2000-4
Country 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Cyprus 166 236 174 246 250
Czech Republic 19 21 12 22 10
Estonia 19 6 10 8 8
Finland 3 3 3 2 0
France 2,768 2,131 nd 1,479 nd
Hungary 6 5 9 8 11
Luxembourg 0 0 0 0 0
Malta 77 68 102 70 nd
Norway 69 26 125 27 126
Poland 160 102 65 39 nd
Romania 1 1 2 2 1
Slovakia 23 13 18 10 9
Spain 115 125 149 172 nd
Sweden nd 100 94 72 nd
UK 1 5 nd nd 6

Source: EIRO; * first five months of year only.

The figures in table 8 should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • Cyprus: figures from Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance.
  • Estonia: figures from public conciliator's office.
  • Finland: figures refer to mediation by trade union and employers’ federations/confederations; 2004 figure is for first half of year only.
  • Hungary: figures refer to mediation by Labour Mediation and Arbitration Service.
  • Malta: figures refer to intervention by DIER in the settlement of trade disputes; DIER data do not distinguish between mediation and conciliation - the terms are used interchangeably.
  • Norway: figures, from State Mediator's Office, refer only to mediation in nationwide disputes.
  • Poland: figures from Ministry of the Economy, Labour and Social Policy.
  • Romania: figures from Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family.
  • Slovakia: figures from Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family.
  • Spain: figures refer to mediation cases referred to SIMA.
  • Sweden: figures refer to mediation administered through the National Mediation Office; 2001 figure includes 20 central cases and 80 regional cases, 2002 figure six central cases and 88 regional cases, and 2003 figure six central cases and 66 regional cases.
  • UK: figures, from Acas, refer to cases received, except for 2004 figure, which is for cases settled; 2000 figure is for 1999-2000; 2001 figure is for 2000-1; 2004 figure is for 2003-4.
Table 9. Number of disputes referred to conciliation, 2000-4
Country 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
Bulgaria - - - - 1
Estonia 20 15 7 4 12
Finland 50 6 17 18 4
France 1,556 1,089 nd 917 nd
Ireland 1,899 (85% settled) 1,815 (83% settled) 1,693 (81% settled) 1,597 (82% settled) nd
Luxembourg 7 12 15 6 10
Portugal 90 76 128 137 95
Romania 136 95 112 119 73
Spain 1,070 839 815 784 605
UK 1,500 (1,152 settled or progress towards settlement) 1,284 (1,075 resolved) 1,326 (1,166 resolved) 1,381 (1,241 resolved) 1,271 (1,149 resolved)

Source: EIRO.

The figures in table 9 should be read in conjunction with the following notes.

  • Bulgaria: figures refer to conciliation by the National Institute for Arbitration and Conciliation (NIAC), which was established by law in 2003; before 2004, voluntary branch and sectoral arbitration and conciliation commissions dealt with 10-30 cases a year. .
  • Estonia: figures from public conciliator's office.
  • Finland: figures refer to conciliation by National Conciliator (34 in 2000, one in 2001, four in 2002, 12 in 2003 and one in 2004) and regional conciliators (16 in 2000, five in 2001, 13 in 2002, six in 2003 and three in 2004).
  • Ireland: figures refer to conciliation by Labour Relations Commission.
  • Portugal: figures from Ministry of Labour and Solidarity.
  • Romania: figures from Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family.
  • Spain: figures, from MTAS, relate to total collective conciliations concluded at regional and lower levels; 2004 figure is for first nine months only.
  • UK: figures from Acas; 2000 figure is for 1999-2000; 2001 figure is for 2000-1; 2002 figure is for 2001-2; 2003 figure is for 2002-3; 2004 figure is for 2003-4.
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