Industrial disputes

Avoiding disputes with your workforce


Good relations between you and your staff are key to creating a productive working environment. You should, therefore, seek to encourage a workplace culture that prevents conflicts from arising.

If you fail to do so, collective grievances could arise, which could, in turn, lead to workers making tribunal claims or calling for industrial action. See staff motivation.

Informing and consulting your workforce and their representatives

It is good practice for you to develop channels for informing and consulting your workforce and/or their representatives on employment matters and business developments. Indeed, in some cases, you are legally obliged to inform and consult them, eg about collective redundancy situations. See engaging with staff.

Depending on the size of the business, you could set up:

  • voluntary recognition with a trade union for collective bargaining purposes
  • regular consultations with a recognised trade union - an effective working relationship with union officials can pick up problems before they escalate
  • a staff forum or joint working group to pass on information to, collect ideas from and consult with workers
  • an employee consultative body to discuss major issues as they arise
  • team and group meetings and feedback sessions

Many employers, especially those which recognise trade unions, have written procedures in place to discuss collective grievances with representatives and other significant issues affecting all or part of the workforce. Procedures are important as they can help you to structure and address problems at an early stage.

If you already have such procedures, you should ensure you follow them effectively and consistently.

If you don't have such procedures, you could consider putting some together in consultation with workers and/or their representatives.

See managing conflict.

The role of LRA in preventing disputes

The Labour Relations Agency (LRA) is an independent statutory body whose role is to improve working life through better employment relations.

The LRA not only helps to resolve a dispute once it arises but also helps employers and workers (or their representatives) work together to prevent disputes arising in the first place.

The LRA's Good Employment Practice division is dedicated to preventing workplace disputes where a problem has arisen but has not yet developed into a serious dispute. The Good Employment Practice division will facilitate and offer services such as - assisted bargaining, collaborative working, joint problem-solving parties, with a view to helping to prevent a dispute by facilitating sustainable solutions that are acceptable to all parties. See LRA dispute resolution services.

The LRA also delivers workplace training and runs small-business workshops aimed at helping organisations adopt or develop better employment relations practices. LRA good practice seminars.