Developments in industrial action 2003–2007

  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Date of Publication: 30 June 2008



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Introduction
Basic industrial action indicators
 - Absolute industrial action levels
 - Relative industrial relations levels
Sectors most affected
Reasons for industrial action
Strike threats
Government intervention
Annex 1: Sectors most affected by industrial action in EU countries
Annex 2: Main causes for industrial action

This overview examines developments in industrial action across the European Union and in Norway over the period 2003–2007. The data show that while overall levels of industrial action were low in historical terms during this period, there were considerable variations between countries. The most ‘strike-prone’ countries included Belgium, France and Spain, while Latvia and Lithuania were essentially strike-free. The level of action in the new Member States was only about a quarter of that in the former EU15; however, some new Member States have begun to see a rise in strike activity in recent times. Industry and manufacturing were the sectors most prone to conflict, followed by transport and communications, and the broad public sector. The most common cause of industrial action was disputes over pay.


Introduction

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 2003–2007 in the European Union (EU) Member States and Norway.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (80.6Kb PDF) recognises the right to take industrial action, stating in Article 28 on the ‘Right of collective bargaining and action’: ‘Workers and employers, or their respective organisations, have, in accordance with Community law and national laws and practices, the right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and, in cases of conflicts of interest, to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action.’ The exercise of this right – for example, in the form of strikes or lock-outs – constitutes one of the highest-profile aspects of industrial relations, not least in terms of media coverage and public impact and attention.

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, despite international efforts to harmonise definitions, the criteria for inclusion in the statistics still often 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 taken; or whether or not the action is official or unofficial. Furthermore, some countries do not appear to produce any statistics for some or all of the indicators of industrial action.

These issues should be borne in mind in reading this report and the notes accompanying tables should be read carefully. The aim of the report is to provide some broad general data on recent developments in industrial action, while pointing out the pitfalls involved in comparisons between countries.


Basic industrial action indicators


Absolute industrial action levels

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 involving industrial action. Data cover the five-year period from 2003 to 2007, though in some countries, figures for 2007 are not yet available in early 2008, 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 Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the UK; labour ministries in the cases of Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Spain; and other relevant public bodies in Belgium, Germany and Sweden. Such official statistics seem to be absent in the other countries under consideration, while data are provided – but often only partial – by trade unions or related bodies for Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovenia (where official statistics are now starting to be compiled). The figures for Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Luxembourg are estimates based on reports from trade unions, public authorities, the media and similar sources, and Eurostat figures are used for France for two of the three indicators.

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, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain – the only form of industrial action recorded in the statistics is strikes. However, other forms of action, notably lock-outs by employers, are explicitly included in cases such as Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Sweden and the UK;
  • in cases such as Denmark, Sweden and the UK, both official/lawful and unofficial/unlawful action is clearly counted in the statistics. By contrast, only official or authorised action is recorded in Austria, Ireland and Malta, 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 working 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 – for example, 10 employees is the maximum in Germany and the UK (unless the total number of working days lost is 100 or more);
  • the data explicitly exclude ‘political’ strikes not directly related to employment conditions in various countries, such as Italy and 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 Belgium and Portugal, for instance. The trade union statistics used for Slovenia (in the current absence of official data) refer only to strikes organised by affiliate organisations of the Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS). In other words, they exclude certain areas, especially in the public sector and services, where ZSSS has few members, as well as wider strike activity;
  • collection methods for official data differ. For example, the statistics are based on reports from employers in Germany, from larger public and private employers and employer organisations in Denmark, and from employer organisations and the media in Finland. In the UK, information is gathered from the employer or trade union involved, regular centralised returns from certain major industries and public bodies, and related articles in a selection of national and regional newspapers. By contrast, in Italy, data on conflicts are provided by local police offices.
Table 1: Working days lost through industrial action, 2003–2007
Country 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007*
Austria 1,305,466 178 0 0 nd
Belgium 239,344 166,287 669,982 88,941 nd
Cyprus 6,901 9,053 15,339 26,898 8,436
Denmark 55,100 76,400 51,300 85,800 91,700
Estonia 20,192 1,548 0 5 31
Finland 66,136 42,385 672,904 85,075 89,000
France 4,388,420 724,630 1,754,710 nd nd
Germany 163,879 50,673 18,633 428,739 nd
Hungary 845 8,022 1,133 15,381 32,126
Ireland 37,482 20,784 26,665 7,352 6,038
Italy 716,250 611,250 793,500 485,375 433,125
Latvia 0 0 0 0 0
Lithuania 0 0 834 0 9,559
Luxembourg 2,800 6,000 0 0 0
Malta 3,306 1,652 1,341 2,935 5,763
Netherlands 15,000 62,200 41,700 15,800 nd
Norway 962 141,179 10,998 146,758 7,000
Poland 6,551 358 413 31,400 167,000
Portugal 53,370 46,096 27,333 44,222 8,805
Romania 22,247 56,891 12,506 24,390 nd
Slovakia 73,000 0 0 19,000 600
Slovenia 16,765 3,675 36,561 4,208 21
Spain 789,043 4,472,191 758,854 927,402 965,504
Sweden 627,541 15,282 568 1,971 13,666
UK 499,000 905,000 157,000 755,000 1,041,000

Notes: * Partial figures only in some cases – see notes below; nd = no data available.

Source: EIRO

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

  • Austria: figures from the Austrian Trade Union Federation (Österreichischer Gewerkschaftsbund, ÖGB) cover all forms of official industrial action authorised by ÖGB, irrespective of length and extent, but exclude unofficial action (for example, the strike at Austrian Airlines in 2004 (AT0408203F)).
  • Belgium: figures from the National Office for Social Security (Office National de la Sécurité sociale/Rijksdienst voor Sociale Zekerheid, ONSS/RSZ) cover the private sector only and refer to days not worked because of strikes or lock-outs, as declared by employers to ONSS/RSZ.
  • Cyprus: figures from the Department of Labour Relations at the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπουργείου Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, MLSI), cover all industrial action (strikes and lock-outs) lasting more than two hours.
  • Denmark: figures from Statistics Denmark (Danmarks Statistik) cover all official and unofficial strikes – based on information from the larger public sector and private sector employer organisations.
  • Estonia: figures are estimates based on data from the Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (Eesti Ametiühingute Keskliit, EAKL), the Estonian Transport and Road Workers’ Trade Union (Eesti Transpordi- ja Teetöötajate Ametiühing, ETTA), the public conciliator’s office and media reports; figures relate to all strikes, including short warning strikes.
  • Finland: figures from Statistics Finland (Tilastokeskus) refer to all ‘temporary intentional interruptions of work’ by employees or employers – mainly compiled from data collected by employer organisations from their members; 2007 figures are preliminary.
  • France: figures are from Eurostat, as available national data are only very limited in scope.
  • Germany: figures are from the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, BA); employers are obliged to inform BA about the beginning and end of any strike or lock-out; strikes and lock-outs are only recorded in the official statistics if they involve at least 10 employees in each establishment and last at least one day or – regardless of the number of workers involved or duration of action – if they cause the loss of more than 100 working days in each establishment.
  • Hungary: figures are estimates, based on media reports.
  • Ireland: figures are from the Central Statistics Office (An Phríomh Oifig Staidrimh na hÉireann, CSO); disputes are included if they involve an official work stoppage lasting at least one day and the total time lost is 10 or more working days.
  • Italy: figures are from the National Institute of Statistics (Istituto Nazionale di Statistica, Istat); the 2007 figure is provisional; data (collected by the police) refer only to work stoppages arising from conflicts connected with employment relationships and exclude those with different causes, such as political strikes.
  • Latvia: figures refer to strikes and exclude other forms of protest action.
  • Lithuania: figures from Statistics Lithuania (Lietuvos statistikos departamentas, STD) cover only lawful strikes and warning strikes (of up to two hours’ duration) called in line with the Labour Code.
  • Luxembourg; figures are EIRO estimates.
  • Malta: figures from the government Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER), within the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, cover strikes, excluding unauthorised strikes and action short of a strike such as go-slows or work-to-rules.
  • Netherlands: figures are from the Central Statistical Office (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, CBS).
  • Norway: figures from Statistics Norway (Statistisk sentralbyrå, SSB) cover full work stoppages that last for at least one day; 2007 figures are estimates.
  • Poland: figures from Central Statistical Office (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS), refer to strikes; the 2007 figure in Table 1 is an estimate, based on a GUS figure of 1,333,500 lost working hours, assuming an eight-hour working day.
  • Portugal: figures from the Ministry of Labour and Social Solidarity (Ministério do Trabalho e da Solidariedade Social, MTSS) relate to strikes and exclude the public administration; 2007 figures relate to the first quarter only.
  • Romania: figures from the National Institute of Statistics (Institutul Naţional de Statistică, INS) refer to strikes relating to ‘conflict of interest’; 2007 figures are for the first half of the year only.
  • Slovakia: figures (estimates in some cases) are based on data from the Slovak Statistical Office (Štatistický úrad Slovenskej republiky, ŠÚ SR) and trade union sources.
  • Slovenia: figures from the Union of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS) cover only strikes organised by its affiliates in individual companies, thus excluding large parts of the economy (such as the public sector), strikes with a wider scope and strikes organised by other trade unions; 2007 figures refer to the first 10 months of the year only.
  • Spain: labour statistics figures from the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Ministerio de Trabajo y Asuntos Sociales, MTAS) refer to working days lost due to strikes; the 2007 figure is for the first 11 months only.
  • Sweden: figures from the National Mediation Office (Medlingsinstitutet) cover all strikes –both official and unofficial – and lock-outs and strikes, irrespective of size.
  • UK: figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) cover all strikes (including ‘unlawful’ strikes) and lock-outs, but exclude stoppages involving fewer than 10 workers or lasting less than one day (unless the total number of working days lost in the dispute is 100 or more) and stoppages over issues not directly linked to employment terms and conditions (which are rare); figures refer to disputes in progress in the year in question, rather than those beginning in that year.
Table 2: Number of workers involved in industrial action, 2003–2007
Country 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007*
Austria 779,182 30 0 0 nd
Belgium 47,998 78,206 285,774 47,187 nd
Bulgaria 79,000 560,000 nd 15,000 nd
Cyprus 3,535 6,479 14,637 25,955 1,687
Denmark 44,356 75,710 32,833 79,128 61,113
Estonia 20,192 258 0 40 250
Finland 91,866 25,211 106,796 48,276 26,305
France 1,226,450 226,110 494,420 nd nd
Germany 57,251 101,420 17,097 166,423 nd
Greece 46,646 129,817 869,597 363,788 373,310
Hungary 3,376 8,412 1,188 19,946 47,470
Ireland 3,567 10,227 3,291 1,186 1,436
Italy 907,630 709,480 960,854 417,249 nd
Latvia 0 0 0 0 0
Lithuania 0 0 70 0 7,033
Luxembourg 2,800 6,000 0 0 0
Malta 1,945 523 972 7,023 1,106
Netherlands 10,800 104,200 29,000 11,300 nd
Norway 95 9,873 591 29,109 1,000
Poland 3,034 217 1,592 24,647 59,900
Portugal 30,330 31,906 21,740 34,179 9,249
Romania 141,509 177,582 184,072 79,736 55,947
Slovakia 18,326 0 0 1,333 100
Slovenia 2,522 1,434 2,715 1,108 21
Spain 728,481 555,832 331,334 499,240 407,262
Sweden 80,538 2,808 613 1,764 3,635
UK 151,000 293,000 93,000 713,000 745,000

Notes: * Partial figures in some cases – see notes below; nd = no data available.

Source: EIRO

Sources and notes relating to the data are as for Table 1 (no data are available for the Czech Republic), with the following additional comments.

  • Belgium: no official data are available; figures given refer only to industrial action involving affiliates of the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions(Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens/Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond, CSC/ACV) and are thus partial; CSC/ACV affiliated trade unions were involved in 26% of the total days lost through industrial action (see Table 1) in 2003, 76% in 2004, 48% in 2005 and 84% in 2006.
  • Bulgaria: figures from the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (CITUB) and the Confederation of Labour ‘Podkrepa’ (CL Podkrepa) are minima and include workers involved in actions such as protest rallies as well as strikes.
  • Greece: figures, from the Ministry of Employment and Social Protection (Υπουργείο Απασχόλησης & Κοινωνικής Προστασίας), relate to strikes; figures given are the aggregate of statistics for the private sector, public administration and ‘public enterprises of common interest’/banks; data underestimate the level of strikes as the ministry’s regional data collection is incomplete.
  • Hungary: figures are estimates of all workers involved in some form of industrial action, which includes actions such as demonstrations, petitions and workers’ assemblies, as well as strikes.
  • Italy: 2006 figure is provisional.
Table 3: Number of industrial disputes, 2003–2007
Country 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007*
Austria nd nd 0 0 nd
Belgium 1,070 671 750 952 nd
Bulgaria nd nd nd 3 18
Cyprus 18 13 25 10 6
Czech Republic 36 34 15 14 9
Denmark 681 804 534 476 862
Estonia 2 1 0 1 1
Finland 113 84 365 97 89
France 785 699 736 nd nd
Hungary 6 11 14 12 15
Ireland 24 11 15 10 6
Italy 699 754 654 459 nd
Latvia 0 0 0 0 0
Lithuania 0 0 1 0 161
Luxembourg 1 1 0 0 0
Malta 8 6 8 8 5
Netherlands 14 12 28 31 nd
Norway 5 12 2 12 4
Poland 24 2 8 27 1,736
Portugal 170 122 126 172 37
Romania 121 79 98 95 54
Slovakia 2 0 0 4 1
Slovenia 11 15 14 7 1
Spain 674 707 669 779 553
Sweden 15 21 18 9 14
UK 133 130 116 158 142

Notes: * Partial figures in some cases – see notes below; nd = no data available.

Source: EIRO

Sources and notes relating to the data are as for Table 1 (no data are available for Germany and Greece), with the following additional comments.

  • Belgium: sources and notes are as for Table 2.
  • Bulgaria: figures are EIRO estimates.
  • Cyprus: figures given are for strikes only.
  • Czech Republic: figures from the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (Českomoravská konfederace odborových svazů, ČMKOS) refer to its affiliates only.
  • France: figures from the Ministry of Employment’s Directorate for Research, Analysis and Statistics (Direction de l’animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques du ministère de l’Emploi, DARES) include all work stoppages except those lasting less than half a day, those involving small companies with fewer than 10 or 20 employees, depending on the sector, and those in agriculture, the civil service and public enterprises.
  • Hungary: figures refer to strikes only.
  • Slovakia: figures refer to strikes only.


Relative industrial relations levels

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 comparison. 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) for 25 countries excluding Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Greece.

Table 4: Working days lost through industrial action per 1,000 employees, 2003–2007
Country 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Austria 410.0 0.1 0 0 nd
Belgium* (66.7) (46.3) (186.6) (24.8) nd
Cyprus 25.8 33.9 57.4 100.7 31.6
Denmark 22.0 30.5 20.5 34.2 36.6
Estonia 36.2 2.8 0 0 0.1
Finland 28.0 18.0 280.3 29.9 30.5
France 200.7 33.1 80.2 nd nd
Germany 4.7 1.5 0.5 12.4 nd
Hungary 0.3 2.9 0.4 5.5 11.6
Ireland 23.1 12.8 16.5 4.5 3.7
Italy* (43.3) (37.0) (48.0) (29.4) (26.2)
Latvia 0 0 0 0 0
Lithuania 0 0 0.8 0 8.5
Luxembourg 10.1 33.7 0 0 0
Malta 23.0 11.0 9.0 19.0 37.0
Netherlands 2.1 8.8 5.9 2.2 nd
Norway 0 67.0 5.0 67.0 3.0
Poland 0.6 0 0 3.0 15.9
Portugal 19.5 16.8 10.0 16.1 nd
Romania 3.8 9.7 2.1 4.1 nd
Slovakia 37.9 0 0 9.9 0.3
Slovenia* (20.8) (4.6) (45.4) (5.2) nd
Spain 45.6 248.9 40.0 47.0 52.5
Sweden 161.5 3.9 0.1 0.5 3.5
UK 19.0 34.0 6.0 28.0 38.6

Note: * Data for these countries underestimate the level of industrial action considerably (see explanation below). Nd = no data available.

Source: EIRO

The data for Belgium, Italy and Slovenia are given in parentheses as they are known to underestimate the level of industrial action considerably (see notes to Table 1). The Belgian statistics cover the private sector only; the Italian data exclude political strikes (which can add greatly to the proportion of days lost in some years, such as 2003); and the Slovenian figures refer only to strikes organised by the affiliates of one trade union confederation – albeit the largest one, ZSSS – in individual companies (no data are given for 2007 when most strikes were organised by non-ZSSS trade unions).

The figures provided in Table 4 for Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Sweden are rough estimates calculated by dividing total working days lost by the number of employees (as stated in Eurostat’s 2005 Labour Force Survey). Otherwise, sources and notes are as for Table 1, with the following additional comments.

  • Germany: calculation based on data from the BA and the Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt, Destatis).
  • Hungary: figures are national estimates.
  • Malta: figures are based on the number of workers employed, as recorded in the annual July–September labour force survey.
  • Spain: 2007 figure is an extrapolation of the figure for the first 11 months of the year only.
  • UK: 2007 figure is an estimate.

Notable points highlighted by Table 4 include the following:

  • the very low levels of industrial action (and indeed absence in some years) in many of the new EU Member States – notably Estonia (except in 2003), Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia – and several ‘old’ ones – Austria (except in 2003), Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Sweden (except in 2003);
  • despite this generally low level of action in the new Member States, increases (if still at low absolute levels) were recorded in 2006 and 2007 in some cases, such as Hungary, Lithuania, Malta and Poland;
  • the lack of any consistent trend in most countries, with figures often rising and falling from year to year (an exception is a fairly continuous fall in Ireland). 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, Belgium in 2005, France in 2003, Spain in 2004 and Sweden in 2003;
  • the very different pictures in the broadly comparable (in size terms) ‘big five’ old EU Member States – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. France and Spain show considerably higher levels of industrial action than Italy, the UK and Germany (very notably so), though Italy would have significantly higher levels in some years if political strikes were included in the data. The largest of the new Member States, Poland, has a consistently low level of action (though rising in 2006–2007), below that of even Germany.

Figure 1 below presents the average figures for working days lost through industrial action per 1,000 employees over the five-year period 2003–2007 (although the average is of four or three years in a number of cases), for 25 countries where the relevant information is available (the various caveats mentioned above, especially in relation to Belgium, Italy and Slovenia, should be borne in mind).

Working days lost through industrial action per 1,000 employees, annual average, 2003–2007

Working days lost through industrial action per 1,000 employees, annual average, 2003–2007

Notes: * Average of 2003–2006; ** Average of 2003–2005; NMS = new Member States that joined the EU in May 2004 and January 2007.

The figures for Belgium, Italy and Slovenia are known to understate the level of action to varying degrees.

No data are available for Bulgaria, Greece and Czech Republic.

Source: EIRO

Working days lost through industrial action per 1,000 employees, annual average, 2003–2007

On average, over the period 2003–2007, the highest levels of industrial action were found in France (104.7 days lost per 1,000 workers) and Austria (102.5 days lost – though see below) and the lowest in Lithuania (1.9 days lost), while no days were lost in Latvia. The overall average for all 25 countries was 30.9 days lost. The figure in the new Member States concerned (12.1 days lost) was only about a quarter of that in the former EU15 (15 Member States prior to enlargement in May 2004) plus Norway (43.4 days).

A rough comparison with the previous decade can be made on the basis of international comparative statistics, based on International Labour Organization (ILO) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data, published by the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) (see Labour Market Trends, April 2004). For the EU15, the average number of days lost stood at 70 days over 1993–1997 and 59 days over 1998–2002. The EIRO average of 43.4 days lost over 2003–2007 (for the EU15 plus Norway) suggests a steady overall fall since the early 1990s.

Looking back even further, 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 days lost. While levels of activity generally declined 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 days lost. The early and mid 2000s have thus clearly been a period of relative industrial peace in many EU15 countries.

Another comparison that can be made on the basis of ONS data (see Economic and Labour Market Review, April 2007) is with countries outside Europe. Over 1996–2005, the annual average for working days lost through industrial action stood at 36 days in the United States of America (US), which is not far above the overall EU average for 2003–2007, and only one day in Japan. The overall OECD average was 42 days lost.

For the five-year period 2003–2007, the 24 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 – Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Germany, the Netherlands, Romania, Estonia, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Ireland, Portugal and Slovenia;
  • countries where industrial action was at moderate levels, with an average of 20–70 working days lost per year for every 1,000 workers – the UK, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Cyprus;
  • 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 – Finland, Belgium, Spain, Austria and France.

However, the average figures for such a short period cannot give a proper picture of national situations and 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 2003–2007, and its annual average for 2003–2006 was inflated to over 100 days lost, despite the fact that there was nil or virtually nil action in the other years. Similarly, Sweden had an annual average of two working days lost over 2004–2007, but 2003 witnessed a pay bargaining conflict (among blue-collar municipal workers) which was the largest in a decade and pushed the 2003–2007 annual average up to over 30 days lost. Similar situations can be seen in Belgium (2005), France (2003), Finland (2005) and Spain (2004).


Sectors most affected

Industrial action is rarely spread evenly through the economy, often being concentrated in particular sectors, either generally or in particular years. Across the countries covered (and allowing for differing definitions of sectors), the sectors most affected by industrial action over 2003–2007 were industry and manufacturing (with metalworking particularly prominent within this category), followed by transport and communications (with rail and air transport figuring strongly). The broad public sector (notably education, and healthcare and social work) was next in line. Private sector services did not figure very often in the top three sectors in most countries affected by industrial action, but were notably conflict-prone in some or all years in cases such as Cyprus (for example, in hotels and restaurants and in financial services), the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal. Construction was sometimes an important source of industrial action in countries such as Cyprus, France, Ireland, Norway, Spain and Sweden. In some countries, particular sectors which were not prominent elsewhere featured highly in particular years, such as mining and quarrying in Norway, utilities in Romania and agriculture in Spain.

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 sectors varies considerably between the countries. For example, Bulgaria, Estonia, Slovakia and the UK are countries where a relatively high proportion of the most strike-prone industries are in the public sector, while the private sector seems more prominent in countries such as Belgium, Cyprus, Finland, the Netherlands and Portugal.

The extent to which a particular sector may dominate the industrial action statistics in a particular year varies across the countries under consideration. For example, a single sector accounted for half or more of all working days lost in: Cyprus over 2003–2005 (services) and in 2006 (transport and communications); Denmark in 2006 (public sector); Finland over 2003–2006 (industry); Germany in 2003 and 2004 (car manufacturing) and 2005 (printing); Ireland in 2004 and 2005 (transport, storage and communications) and 2006 (construction); Italy in 2005 (metalworking); Malta in 2003 (utilities), 2004 (postal services) and 2005–2006 (transport); Norway in 2005 (construction) and 2007 (health and social work); Portugal in 2003 (transport and communications) and 2005 (manufacturing); Romania in 2005 (transport, storage and communications); Sweden in 2003 (municipal sector), 2004 (electrical installation) and 2007 (air transport); and the UK in 2006 (public administration).

For a detailed outline of the three sectors most affected by industrial action each year over 2003–2007 in each of the 26 countries for which any information is available, see Table A1 in Annex 1. It also presents the percentage of all days lost through industrial action accounted for by each sector.


Reasons for industrial action

Industrial action statistics or other sources of data from 25 countries (Belgium, Germany and Latvia are the exceptions among the 27 EU Member State plus Norway) allow the main causes of industrial action to be identified. The countries’ often widely differing ways of categorising the reasons for industrial action make comparisons difficult, but pay is undoubtedly the most important reason. It features specifically among the leading issues in all countries but Cyprus, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Spain – and in Cyprus, the Netherlands and Spain (plus Finland, Italy, Malta and Norway), pay can be assumed to be involved in many of the collective bargaining disputes which are prominent causes of industrial action. Pay is consistently the leading single issue in industrial action in Denmark, Estonia, France, Lithuania, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and the UK, and in most years in Hungary, Poland and Sweden. While wage increase demands are the main issue under the pay heading, wage arrears are important in countries such as Bulgaria and Slovenia.

Employment is probably the next most important reason for industrial action (as in Portugal), especially when dismissals, redundancies and job losses (prominent in the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary and the UK) are included in this category. Plant closures and company restructuring, which are important causes of action in countries such as Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, probably also fall under this broad heading.

The third most common reason is broadly ‘political’ issues, with general or specific government policies (such as on social security, labour law reforms, privatisations and sector restructuring) being an important cause of action (though this often varies from year to year) in Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Malta, Poland and Sweden (the same is probably true of Italy, but the data used here exclude such political action). Unspecified political issues are consistently in the top three most important causes of action in Denmark, while political matters presumably make up many of the issues not strictly linked to the employment relationship that are significant grounds for industrial action in Spain.

Working time and working conditions (prominent to varying degrees in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Sweden and the UK) are the fourth most common cause of industrial action. Within these overall trends, there are a number of national peculiarities, such as the prominence in some years of trade union/labour rights in Bulgaria and Hungary, or health and safety in Malta.

For a detailed outline of the three main causes for industrial action in the countries under examination over 2003–2007, along with the percentage of all days lost through industrial action accounted for by each reason, see Table A2 in Annex 2.


Strike threats

While the focus of this report is on industrial action that results in the loss of working days, strikes may also be called by trade unions but called off before they are due to occur. This is often a tactic adopted by trade unions to increase pressure in negotiations, and in some countries giving notice of strikes is part of the ‘normal’ bargaining process.

Unfortunately, it appears that systematic data on strikes called but not held are very rarely collected, making it difficult to assess the scale of the phenomenon in individual countries or to compare the situation in various countries. The few cases where any relevant statistics are available are as follows.

  • In Italy, under 1990 legislation restricting the right to strike in essential public services, calls for strike action in these services are monitored by an independent Guarantee Authority (Commissione di Garanzia). In the latest period for which information is available, namely January 2005 to June 2006, trade unions at national and local level issued 2,621 notifications or threats of strike action, of which 1,031 (39%) were called off before they were due to take place.
  • In Sweden, during the major sectoral collective bargaining round in 2007, the National Mediation Office mediated in 30 cases. In 25 of these cases, trade unions gave notice of industrial action, but action occurred in only five instances. Also in 2007, the Swedish Confederation of Trade Unions (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, LO) demanded collective agreements with ‘unorganised’ employers not affiliated to employer organisations and gave notice of industrial action in 43 cases. However, most cases were resolved or the action called off before taking effect.
  • An estimate of the extent of the phenomenon in the UK can be obtained by comparing the number of disputes involving industrial action with the number of successful ballots for strike action (as reported by Electoral Reform Services, ERS) – ballots are obligatory before taking industrial action. In total, 684 successful ballots and 133 disputes were recorded in 2003 (that is, 19% of planned strikes took place); 762 successful ballots and 130 disputes in 2004 (17%); 663 successful ballots and 116 disputes in 2005 (17%); and 1,094 successful ballots and 158 disputes in 2006 (14%).

While no statistical data are available, unfulfilled strike threats also seem to be relatively common and part of standard industrial relations tactics in countries such as Finland, Ireland, Malta, Norway and Spain. For example, in Finland’s 2007 sectoral bargaining round, there were relatively frequent threats of industrial action, most of which never occurred, to strengthen trade unions’ position in negotiations. In Spain, the numerous cases in 2007 included disputes in the oil and rail sectors, the construction sector in Almería in southeastern Spain, urban transport in Seville in the south of the country, and the woodworking industry in Jaén in south-central Spain. In Norway, notice of a strike will almost always be given as part of the normal bargaining process, which serves the purpose of giving the parties involved a deadline for finalising the negotiations. In most cases, this does not lead to a strike. When notice of industrial action is given, indicating that a new collective agreement cannot be reached, the state mediator will normally apply compulsory mediation, usually leading to a new agreement.

Unfulfilled strike threats also clearly occur in countries such as Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, Poland and Romania. It is not known how frequently unfulfilled strike threats occur in most of these countries, but in 2007 at least, only a small number of cases occurred in Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary and Luxembourg. No notable cases at all are reported to have occurred in 2007 in Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Lithuania and Slovakia, but it is not clear if the practice ever occurs in these cases. Finally, no data are available on the issue from Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovenia.

Table 5 below presents a number of examples of unfulfilled strike threats in 2007. In most cases, the threatened action was in support of collective bargaining demands, especially for pay increases, or in protest against planned job losses or other employers’ actions. A few cases involved more political demands (as in Romania). In almost all cases, the threatened strike action was called off because the trade unions’ achieved their demands, or a satisfactory compromise, through further negotiations, in some cases involving the government.

Table 5: Examples of industrial action announced but called off, 2007
Organisation/sector concerned Date Context Action called off after:
Austria
Austrian Airlines (AUA) May Opposition to management attempts to introduce performance-related pay scheme during negotiations over new collective agreement (AT0706029I) Agreement to hold further negotiations
Austrian Post Company (Österreichische Post) December Deadlock in negotiations over new collective agreement Agreement reached
Belgium
Airports in Wallonia region November Proposed transfer of security staff from public agency to private company Agreement was reached to transfer workers to another part of the public administration
Johnson Controls (engineering) October Fears of job losses following restructuring Unions satisfied with management solutions after further discussions
Ligue des familles (family support association) December Opposition to planned redundancies Unions satisfied with outcome of conciliation
Secure centre for illegal immigrants November Concern over working conditions and workplace safety Government took new measures to improve security of staff
Bulgaria
Rail companies May Demands for pay increases Agreement reached on substantial pay increases
Sofia bus transport May Demands for pay increases Government agreed to increase pay
Czech Republic
ETA Hlinsko (metalworking) - Demands for pay increases Agreement reached on pay increases
Estonia
Bus transport December Demands for pay increases Pay agreement reached, enabled by government increasing subsidies to bus companies
Healthcare sector in Tallinn January Demands for pay increases Tripartite negotiations led to government agreeing to increase hospital funding to enable demanded pay increases
Hungary
Public sector February Protests over public sector pay freeze Agreement reached on pay increases (HU0703029I)
Ireland
Breeo Foods (food processing) July Dispute over redundancy terms Company agreed to pay full redundancy package
Latvia
Latvijas Pasts (national postal company) June-August Demands for pay increases (LV0708019I) Agreement that company would draw up proposals for increasing pay and improving working conditions
Malta
Air Malta December Delays in negotiations over new collective agreement for pilots Agreement reached following widespread concern over effects of strike
Romania
National Romanian Post Office Company (Compania Naţională Poşta Română) February Protests over pay and recruitment freeze owing to company’s ‘monitored’ status (RO0704019Q) Government decided to lift company’s ‘monitored’ status
Public administration September Proposed workforce reduction Government dropped workforce-reduction proposals
Nationwide (general strike) October Protest at 2008 state budget’s provisions, notably on minimum wage increase (RO0711029I) Government further increased minimum wage after tripartite discussions

Source: EIRO


Government intervention

Almost all countries examined in this review have mechanisms for the resolution of industrial disputes through arbitration, mediation and/or conciliation processes, provided by the state or the social partners themselves. Previous EIRO reviews of developments in industrial action (TN0506101U, TN0303104U, TN0003401U) have examined the statistics on disputes referred to these processes for resolution. This study looks at another aspect of the prevention of industrial action – the extent to which the government or other public authorities intervene in order to prevent planned strikes, or to stop strikes that are already under way.

Evidence from 2007 indicates that the likelihood of governments and public authorities, other than specialist dispute resolution bodies, intervening in disputes in organisations and sectors where they are not the employer are very rare. Perhaps the sole clear case where this occurred was in Bulgaria, where the Minister of Labour and Social Policy directly intervened to stop a strike that had been under way for three weeks at the Pirintex textiles plant (owned by a foreign investor). The 2,300 workers at the company went on strike in support of demands for pay increases, trade union recognition and the conclusion of a collective agreement. After management refused to negotiate and the workers’ protests escalated, the minister called a meeting with the parties. This led to the start of negotiations and then the conclusion of a collective agreement, while the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Министерство на труда и социалната политика, MLSP) made a commitment to support the company in improving working conditions and training.

An interesting form of government intervention took place in Finland, when 12,000 nurses threatened to resign en masse over a pay dispute (FI0710039I). While the dispute was resolved, averting the threat of action, the Labour Court ruled that a mass resignation would be unlawful. The government then controversially legislated to make it possible to order healthcare professionals to continue working even if they have resigned. This generated debate among the social partners about the rules on industrial action, with trade unions condemning the legislation as an infringement of employees’ right to strike.

Despite the rarity of clear-cut cases of government intervention in disputes in areas where it is not the employer (though behind-the-scenes intervention or indirect pressure may be hard to gauge), this is an area where the boundaries can be blurred, especially in the public sector. Here, the government (national or at lower levels) is essentially the employer party to industrial disputes. However, employer responsibilities are often devolved to the managements of public administrations or state-owned organisations, and the extent to which governments take an active role in disputes varies considerably. It seems that they tend to intervene in the public sector to a relatively high degree in some central and eastern European countries, often by making budgetary decisions to enable settlements to be reached. In 2007, cases of government intervention included the following:

  • the Bulgarian government intervened in May to enable major pay increases in the railway sector, averting the threat of a strike;
  • the Czech government sought unsuccessfully to persuade education trade unions to call off a planned strike over pay demands;
  • in Estonia, the government increased state subsidies to bus companies to enable a pay agreement in December that ended industrial action by drivers. It also agreed in tripartite negotiations to increase hospital funding, thereby permitting substantial pay increases for healthcare workers and averting threatened industrial action in January;
  • the German government intervened informally in a dispute involving train drivers at the state-owned Deutsche Bahn rail company, but without success by the end of the year;
  • the Latvian Ministry of Transport (Latvijas Republikas Satiksmes Ministrija) helped to prevent industrial action at the Latvijas Pasts national postal company in July, promising that better working conditions, including more security at work, would be provided as part of ongoing reforms;
  • in Poland, the government agreed to increase funding to meet trade union pay demands and thereby prevent industrial action in healthcare institutions;
  • the Slovak Ministry of Transport, Post Offices and Telecommunications (Ministerstvo dopravy, pôšt a telekomunikácií Slovenskej republiky, MDPT SR) attempted to prevent a planned strike over air safety by air traffic controllers by giving assurances on the issue. When the strike occurred, it threatened legal consequences for the strikers and then agreed to an independent safety audit, which led to the suspension of the action.

In a number of countries, dispute resolution bodies play a relatively active role in intervening in cases of actual or potential industrial action, which in some cases might arguably be seen as a form of state intervention. For example:

  • Ireland’s National Implementation Body (NIB) plays an important role in intervening in order to prevent or stop strikes. For example, in 2007, NIB intervened in a dispute at Aer Lingus, heading off stoppages and putting in place an intensive two-week process aiming to come up with a final resolution to the conflict. NIB also intervened in a major pay dispute between nurses and health employers, and devised a settlement framework, though the conflict was not fully resolved by the end of the year;
  • In Italy, the Guarantee Authority that oversees industrial action in essential public services may intervene in disputes. It also has the power to impose guaranteed minimum services during strikes in sectors that have not reached an adequate agreement on this issue, and to refer cases of failure to observe the rules on calling strikes or on minimum services to the public authorities, which may order workers to return to work in the cases of strikes that pose a threat to public safety or constitutional rights. In the January 2005–June 2006 period, the authority intervened in 837 cases. In 724 cases (86%), the intervention was successful, leading to the industrial action being called off in 568 cases and postponed in 156 cases.
  • Malta’s statutory Director of Industrial and Employment Relations (IER) regularly intervenes formally and informally to pre-empt strikes. For example, in 2007, the director intervened in disputes at organisations such as the Enemalta energy company, Maltapost and the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST), leading to the prevention or cessation of industrial action.
  • Norway has a system of compulsory arbitration by the National Wages Board that may be used by the government to end industrial action that threatens life or health, or has other seriously damaging effects on society. In 2007, no cases of compulsory arbitration took place, but in 2006 three cases occurred.
  • Sweden’s National Mediation Office reports that enforced mediation in disputes is no longer necessary, as the bargaining parties themselves have requested mediation in recent years. The mediation office, when invited to mediate, often plays an active role in negotiations where conflicts are close. During 2007’s major sectoral bargaining round, it mediated in 30 cases. As only five of these cases ended in strikes, it is likely that the mediation office played a substantial part in preventing conflicts.

Overall, however, the picture is of governments not intervening directly (or overtly) in industrial disputes, with many apparently taking the line of the UK government, which is generally concerned about limiting its involvement in industrial action, claiming that this is a matter for employers and employees to resolve.


Annex 1: Sectors most affected by industrial action in EU countries

Table A1 indicates the three sectors most affected by industrial action each year over 2003–2007 (data are not available for all years in all cases) in each of the 26 countries for which any information is available (Greece and Latvia being the exceptions, while all of the other EU countries plus Norway are included). It also presents the percentage of all days lost through industrial action accounted for by each sector (where available, while percentages of disputes, or of workers involved in industrial action, per sector are used in some cases, as indicated).


Table A1: Sectors most affected by industrial action, 2003–2007
Country/year Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Austria
2003 (All sectors) Rail transport Air transport
2004 Courier services Air transport -
2005 - - -
2006 - - -
Belgium
2003 Manufacturing Transport, storage and communications Real estate, renting and business activities
2004 Manufacturing Transport, storage and communications Health and social work
2005 Manufacturing Transport, storage and communications Health and social work
2006 Manufacturing Real estate, renting and business activities Transport, storage and communications
Bulgaria
2003 Tobacco production Telecommunications -
2004 Education Mining (All sectors)
2005 Education Tobacco production -
2006 - - -
2007 Education Social work Forestry
Cyprus (number of strikes)
2003 Services (56%) Construction (28%) Hotels (11%)
2004 Services (54%) Manufacturing (23%) Construction/finance/hotels (each 8%)
2005 Services (56%) Finance (16%) Manufacturing (12%)
2006 Transport and communication (50%) Services (30%) Construction/ manufacturing (each 10%)
2007 Finance/services (each 33%) Transport and communications/construction (each 17%) -
Czech Republic (no data for 2006)
2003 Metalworking Woodworking, forestry and water Chemicals
2004 Metalworking Woodworking, forestry and water Public sector
2005 Metalworking Public sector Woodworking, forestry and water
2007 Metalworking Public sector Retail
Denmark
2003 Iron and metals (25%) Food and beverages (20%) Transport (7%)
2004 Food and beverages (39%) Iron and metals (22%) Transport (11%)
2005 Public sector (29%) Iron and metals (21%) Food and beverages (17%)
2006 Public sector (73%) Transport (7%) Iron and metals (6%)
Estonia
2003 Education Civil service -
2004 Rail transport - -
2005 - - -
2006 Air transport - -
2007 Air transport - -
Finland
2003 Industry (59%) Transport, storage and communications (18%) Agriculture and forestry (15%)
2004 Industry (57%) Transport, storage and communications (37%) ‘Other’ services (5%)
2005 Industry (98%) Transport, storage and communications (1%) Public administration (1%)
2006 Industry (60%) Transport, storage and communications (39%) Construction (1%)
2007 Industry Private services -
France
2003 Industry Services Construction
2004 Industry Services Construction
2005 Industry Services Construction
2006 Industry Services Construction
Germany
2003 Car manufacturing (79%) Steel (13%) Printing (1%)
2004 Car manufacturing (69%) Manufacture of machinery (16%) Printing (8%)
2005 Printing (70%) Commerce (12%) Public services (9%)
2006 Public services (33%) Car manufacturing (11%) Manufacture of machinery (5%)
Hungary
2003 Healthcare Industry Education
2004 Healthcare Transport Manufacturing
2005 Manufacturing Transport Culture
2006 Manufacturing Healthcare Education
2007 Education Transport Healthcare
Ireland
2003 Health and social work (42%) Public administration (33%) Manufacturing (9%)
2004 Transport, storage and communications (59%) Manufacturing (12%) Financial and other business services (11%)
2005 Transport, storage and communications (81%) Electricity, gas and water supply (8%) Manufacturing (4%)
2006 Construction (65%) Manufacturing (15%) Public administration (9%)
2007 Manufacturing (45%) Transport, storage and communications (38%) Public administration (14%)
Italy
2003 Metalworking (47%) Public administration (14%) Transport and communications (13%)
2004 Metalworking (30%) Public administration (20%) Services and other social activities (16%)
2005 Metalworking (62%) Public administration (13%) Services and other social activities (7%)
2006 Metalworking (32%) Transport and communications (10%) Construction (10%)
Lithuania
2003 - - -
2004 - - -
2005 Public sector (culture) - -
2006 - - -
2007 Education - -
Luxembourg
2003 Rail transport - -
2004 Steel industry - -
2005 - - -
2006 - - -
2007 - - -
Malta
2003 Utilities (c. 73%) Transport (c. 17%) Food processing sector (c. 8%)
2004 Postal services (c. 91%) Transport (c. 8%) Hospitals (c. 1%)
2005 Transport (c. 57%) Manufacturing (c. 37%) Utilities (c. 4%)
2006 Transport (c. 68%) Education (c. 26%) Gaming (c. 3%)
2007 Postal services Education Transport
Netherlands
2003 Commercial services Industry and construction -
2004 Industry and construction Commercial services Transport and communications
2005 Commercial services Industry and construction Financial services
2006 Commercial services Transport and communications Industry and construction
Norway
2003 - - -
2004 Mining and quarrying (30%) Manufacturing (28%) Transport, storage and communications (24%)
2005 Construction (73%) Mining and quarrying (27%) -
2006 Real estate, renting and business activities (25%) Other community, social and personal service activities (21%) Construction (20%)
2007 Health and social work (c. 90%) - -
Poland
2003 Real estate and services for companies Industrial processing Transport, warehouse management and communications
2004 Transport, warehouse management and communications - -
2005 Industrial processing Transport, warehouse management and communications Healthcare
2006 Healthcare Postal services Clothing industry
2007 Healthcare Education Mining
Portugal (workers involved in action 2003–2005)
2003 Transport and communications (68%) Manufacturing (13%) Real estate and services for companies (6%)
2004 Financial services (42%) Manufacturing (32%) Transport and communications (19%)
2005 Manufacturing (52%) Transport and communications (19%) Real estate and services for companies (16%)
2006 Transport and communications (45% of working days lost) Manufacturing (43% of working days lost) Financial services (5% of working days lost)
Romania (workers involved in action)
2003 Metalworking and metal products (28%) Means of transport (18%) Transport, storage and communications (11%)
2004 Transport, storage and communications (37%) Electric and thermal energy, gas and water supply (18%) Metalworking and metal products (14%)
2005 Transport, storage and communications (71%) Chemical substances and products (6%) Machinery and equipment (4%)
2006 Electric and thermal energy, gas and water supply (34%) Machinery and equipment (22%) Transport, storage and communications (7%)
2007 (first half) Metalworking and metal products (37%) Machinery and equipment (35%) Electric and thermal energy, gas and water supply (11%)
Slovakia
2003 Railways - -
2004 - - -
2005 - - -
2006 Healthcare - -
2007 Air transport - -
Slovenia (workers involved in action – data very limited, see note to Table 1)
2003 Textiles and leather processing (43%) Metalworking and electrical industry (40%) Wood processing (14%)
2004 Textiles and leather processing (82%) Metalworking and electrical industry (7%) -
2005 Textiles and leather processing (51%) Metalworking and electrical industry (9%) Wood processing (9%)
2006 Textiles and leather processing (79%) Metalworking and electrical industry (16%) -
Spain (workers involved in action)
2003 Metalworking (12%) Activities related to transport and communications (5%) Other transport (2%)
2004 Agriculture (21%) Education (13%) Metalworking (13%)
2005 Metalworking (26%) Education (15%) Equipment (12%)
2006 Building (31%) Automotive (13%) Education (12%)
2007 Building (22%) Education (8%) Automotive (8%)
Sweden
2003 Municipal sector (96%) Electrical installation sector (4%) Docks
2004 Electrical installation (89%) Construction (road/rail) (5%) Air transport (2%)
2005 Public transport (26%) Electrical installation (24%) Oil refining (18%)
2006 Docks (38%) Public/municipal sector (7%) (A cross-sector strike by a small number of members of a minority trade union, the Central Organisation of Swedish Workers (Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation, SAC) SAC, accounted for around 50%)
2007 Air transport (53%) Construction (24%) Mining (10%)
UK
2003 Public administration (28%) Education (26%) Transport and communications (25%)
2004 Public administration (48%) Education (42%) Transport and communications (5%)
2005 Education (27%) Transport and communications (21%) Public administration (15%)
2006 Public administration (83%) Transport and communications (5%) Education (4%)

Notes: Refer also to Table 1; data for some countries are based on information from trade unions or are expert estimates.

Source: EIRO


Annex 2: Main causes for industrial action

Table A2 below indicates the three main causes for industrial action in these countries over 2003–2007 (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 A2: Main causes of industrial action, 2003–2007
Country/year 1 2 3
Austria
2003 Government pensions reform Rail restructuring Pay (Austrian Airlines)
2004 Employment status (Veloce) Pay (Austrian Airlines) -
2005 - - -
2006 - - -
Bulgaria
2003 Government economic and social policy Pay levels Privatisation of state telecommunications and tobacco companies
2004 Labour law changes Pay levels Labour and trade union rights
2005 Government education budget Wage arrears -
2006 - - -
2007 Public sector pay Taxation of workers’ social benefits Working conditions
Cyprus
2003–2007 Failure to reach a collective agreement, or violation/non-implementation of agreements - -
Czech Republic
2003 Disputes over concluding collective agreements Pay Job losses
2004 Disputes over concluding collective agreements Pay Job losses
2005 Disputes over concluding collective agreements Pay Job losses
2006 Disputes over concluding collective agreements Pay New Labour Code
2007 Disputes over concluding collective agreements Pay Working time
Denmark*
2003 Pay (43.8%) ‘Hiring and firing’ (8.1%) ‘Industrial political’ issues (4.8%)
2004 Pay (32.7%) ‘Industrial political’ issues (28.3%) ‘Hiring and firing’ (6.9%)
2005 Pay (33.5%) ‘Hiring and firing’ (12%) ‘Industrial political’ issues (5.1%)
2006 Pay (34.5%) ‘Hiring and firing’ (11.8%) ‘Industrial political’ issues (8.9%)
Estonia
2003 Pay - -
2004 Pay - -
2005 - - -
2006 Pay - -
2007 Pay - -
Finland
2003 Job losses, actual or threatened (55% of days lost) - -
2004 ‘Labour arrangements’ or managerial procedures (35% of disputes) Job losses, actual or threatened (31% of disputes) Negotiation of collective agreements (15% of disputes)
2005 Negotiation of collective agreements (97% of days lost) - -
2006 Pay (28% of disputes) ‘Labour arrangements’ or managerial procedures (21% of disputes) Job losses, actual or threatened (20% of disputes)
2007 Pay Job losses, actual or threatened Negotiation of collective agreements
France
2003 Pay Working time Job losses
2004 Pay Working time Job losses
2005 Pay Working time Job losses
2006 Pay Job losses Working time
2007 Pay ‘Solidarity day’ (statutory unpaid working day scheme) Job losses
Greece
2003 Public sector pay (and employment status) - -
2004 Negotiation of national collective agreement - -
2005 Government economic and employment policy - -
2006 Pay Government economic policy -
2007 Social security reform Public sector pay and benefits -
Hungary
2003 Pay Job losses Restructuring
2004 Pay Restructuring Job losses
2005 Pay Trade union rights ‘Unlawful’ employer practices
2006 Pay Non-pay bargaining issues Trade union rights
2007 Reform of health insurance system Restructuring Job losses
Italy
2003 Renewal of sectoral collective agreements (47%) ‘Economic and normative’ issues (24%) Dismissals or suspensions (5%)
2004 Renewal of sectoral collective agreements (41%) ‘Economic and normative’ issues (32%) Dismissals or suspensions (8%)
2005 Renewal of sectoral collective agreements (58%) ‘Economic and normative’ issues (12%) Dismissals or suspensions (7%)
2006 Renewal of sectoral collective agreements (69%) ‘Economic and normative’ issues (8%) Dismissals or suspensions (7%)
2007 Renewal of sectoral collective agreements (56%) ‘Economic and normative’ issues (20%) Dismissals or suspensions (5%)
Lithuania
2003 - - -
2004 - - -
2005 Pay - -
2006 - - -
2007 Teachers’ pay and workload - -
Luxembourg
2003 Compliance with collective agreement - -
2004 Restructuring - -
2005 - - -
2006 - - -
2007 - - -
Malta
2003 Issues relating to collective agreements EU ports Directive Pay
2004 Employment levels/workload Government subsidies for bus drivers -
2005 Government subsidies for bus drivers Pay EU ports Directive
2006 Government subsidies for bus drivers Violence at work (teachers) EU ports Directive
2007 Issues relating to concluding collective agreements Health and safety Transfer of workers
Netherlands
2003 ‘Other’ Unknown -
2004 ‘Other’ (58% of disputes) Collective agreements (42% of disputes) -
2005 ‘Other’ (46% of disputes) Collective agreements (32% of disputes) Terms of employment not covered by a collective agreement (14% of disputes)
2006 ‘Other’ (55% of disputes) Collective agreements (32% of disputes) Working time (13% of disputes)
Norway
2003–2007 Negotiation of sectoral collective agreements (especially pay terms) - -
Poland
2005 Pay Social benefits -
2006 Pay Profit distribution Privatisation
2007 Public sector spending Pay Pensions
Portugal
2003 Pay (48.2%) Working conditions (23.3%) Employment and training (14.2%)
2004 Pay (39%) Working conditions (26.1%) Employment and training (10.5%)
2005 Pay (55.2%) Working conditions (20.9%) Employment and training (10.8%)
2006 Pay (c. 40%) Working conditions (c. 30%) Employment and training (c. 10%)
Romania
2003 Pay (50.9% of issues in disputes) ‘Other’ (such as restructuring, negotiation of collective agreements) (21.5% of issues in disputes) Work conditions (5.4% of issues in disputes)
2004 Pay (54.5% of issues in disputes) ‘Other’ (such as restructuring, negotiation of collective agreements) (17% of issues in disputes) Work conditions (5% of issues in disputes)
2005 Pay (60% of issues in disputes) ‘Other’ (such as restructuring, negotiation of collective agreements) (19.2% of issues in disputes) Work conditions (14.2% of issues in disputes)
2006 Pay (57.7% of issues in disputes) ‘Other’ (such as restructuring, negotiation of collective agreements) (27.9% of issues in disputes) Work conditions (5.4% of issues in disputes)
2007 (first half) Pay (70.4% of issues in disputes) ‘Other’ (such as restructuring, negotiation of collective agreements) (25.9% of issues in disputes) Work conditions (3.7% of issues in disputes)
Slovakia
2003 Rail restructuring - -
2004 - - -
2005 - - -
2006 Pay - -
2007 Air traffic safety - -
Slovenia (data very limited, see note to Table 1)
2003–2007 Pay (mainly arrears and wages not in conformity with collective agreement)    
Spain
2003 Not collective bargaining related (80% of workers involved in action) Collective bargaining related (19% of workers involved in action) Not strictly labour issues (0.4% of workers involved in action)
2004 Collective bargaining related (71% of workers involved in action) Not collective bargaining related (26% of workers involved in action) Not strictly labour issues (3% of workers involved in action)
2005 Not collective bargaining related (62% of workers involved in action) Not strictly labour issues (5% of workers involved in action) Collective bargaining related (4% of workers involved in action)
2006 Not collective bargaining related (62% of workers involved in action) Collective bargaining related (34% of workers involved in action Not strictly labour issues (4% of workers involved in action)
2007 Collective bargaining related (41% of workers involved in action) Not strictly labour issues (36% of workers involved in action) Not collective bargaining related (23% of workers involved in action)
Sweden
2003 Pay General terms of employment Political issues
2004 Pay General terms of employment -
2005 Pay General terms of employment Political issues
2006 General terms of employment Political issues -
2007 General terms of employment Pay Working time
UK
2003 Pay (84%) Hours (13%) Staffing and work allocation (1%)
2004 Pay (84%) Redundancy (12%) Hours (2%)
2005 Pay (60%) Staffing and work allocation (14%) Redundancy (11%)
2006 Pay (73%) Redundancy (22%) Working conditions and supervision (2%)
2007 Pay (63%) Hours (32%) Redundancy (3%)

Notes: See also Table 1 above; data for some countries based on information from trade unions or are expert estimates. * Figures from the Confederation of Danish Employers ( Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, DA) relate only to unofficial strikes in the main DA and Danish Confederation of Trade Unions ( Landsorganisationen i Danmark, LO) private sector bargaining area.

Source: EIRO

Mark Carley, SPIRE Associates/IRRU, University of Warwick

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