Public sector strike – its impact on stress

More than 600,000 teachers, civil servants and other public sector staff plan to strike on 30 June in what would be one of the biggest co-ordinated one-day actions for a generation. Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, has warned that the strike may go ahead if the on-going pensions dispute with the Government cannot be resolved. Ministers are proposing a 3% increase in employee retirement contributions to replace their final salary deals with ‘career average’ schemes. The trade union claims that the proposal would involve longer working hours and a cut in pension benefits.

Unison is threatening to ballot its 1.2 million members if “destructive” changes to public-sector pension schemes go ahead. Unison’s move follows industrial action ballots already conducted by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) and the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) – all prompted by amendments to pension schemes and other public-sector reforms.

Low turnouts in strike ballots mean that the majority of union members did not vote for industrial action. The threat of strike could well create increased stress for those in the education sector, who already report significant stress levels. In fact, HSE research in 2000 (‘The Scale of Occupational Stress’) found teaching to be the most stressful profession in the UK, with 41.5% of teachers reporting themselves as ‘highly stressed’.

Individuals will be under pressure to decide for themselves whether to take part in the strike or break the strike and risk repercussions from colleagues. And some younger teachers might not be so willing to join a strike about pensions, which seem a long way off for those at the beginning of their careers. Furthermore, talk of a possible public sector strike has also begun causing some friction between public and private-sector workers as private sector workers ask why those in the public sector shouldn’t suffer the same cuts in pension rights already seen by them.

It’s important for managers/employers to demonstrate an awareness of stress and to be able to recognise signs of stress in their employees, especially during periods of increased tension and uncertainty. The Health for Work Adviceline advisers (www.health4work.nhs.uk) can offer guidance for employers on managing stress in the workplace and supporting employees who are struggling with stress-related issues. Call 0800 0 77 88 44.

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