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Number of strikes jumps 45% in just a year

Posted: 16/12/19 by EMW

The number of strikes in the UK rose sharply last year as a growing number of employees protest over zero-hour contracts.

The number of strikes across the UK’s public and private sectors increased 45% over the last year, from 66 in 2017/18 to 96 in 2018/19*. That also looks set to rise with strike action at universities ongoing, a 27 day strike on South Western Railways having just started and nurses in Northern Ireland working to rule.

Workers may feel that skills shortages may give them the upper hand in negotiating and industrial action shows that they mean business. Alternatively, employees may just feel that direct action is the only way to produce the results they want.

More workers are now using apps such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook to mobilize employees and organise quick strike action. Workers are increasingly coordinating strikes independently through Facebook groups and Twitter hash tags, particularly in cases where no trade unions are involved.

Staff members at the People’s Vote campaign went on strike recently, with around 40 staff organising a walkout independently.

However, the overall number of working days lost to industrial action has dropped 66% over the last year, from 321,100 in 2017/18 to 109,400 in 2018/19. This may be driven by fewer strikes at very large employers.

An increasing number of strikes have been related to the use of zero-hours contracts. These have included:

  • Staff at some branches of McDonald’s protested against the use of zero-hour contracts in November 2019
  • Workers at Luton Airport went on strike in July 2018 in an attempt to end their employer’s use of zero-hour contract
  • Cleaners and security guards at University College London confirmed strike action against zero-hours contracts in November 2019

Jon Taylor, Principal at EMW, says: “Workers are finding new and inventive ways to voice their grievances on a mass scale. Social media is being used as an effective tool to cut out the need for a trade union and immediately connect workers. This has helped mobilize swift strike action. There could be even more days lost to strikes with more and more inventing new forms of protest, such as unofficial strike action through sick leave.”

* Year end August 31. Source: ONS

For more information on this article, please contact our Employment Principal, Jon Taylor, on 0345 070 6000 or email

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