Industrial action 

This risk is featured in the full matrix, representing the averages of multiple different scenarios presented together in the ‘industrial action’ category.

Impact 5
risk indicator
ID 59
Risk theme Societal
Impact & Likelihood
Impact key
5 Catastrophic
4 Significant
3 Moderate
2 Limited
1 Minor
Likelihood key
5 >25%
4 5-25%
3 1-5%
2 0.2-1%
1 <0.2%


Industrial action happens when trade union members are in a dispute with their employers that cannot be solved through negotiations. It can take the form of a strike where workers withdraw their labour for a period of time, or action short of strike such as a work to rule. Both forms of action can lead to disruption affecting critical services or infrastructure.

In order for industrial action to be legal, there are a number of conditions set out in the Trade Unions and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, as amended by the Trade Union Act (2016). These conditions are that there must be a trade dispute between the union and the direct employer, the union must notify the employer of its intention to ballot for industrial action, that the ballot is conducted by post overseen by an independent scrutineer, and that the union notify the outcome of the ballot and intended strike dates to the employer in advance.

The impact and likelihood of industrial action varies across different organisations in both the public and private sector and is typically a reflection of the industrial relations landscape within organisations. Unofficial or wildcat action is possible, where workers take action having not complied with the law governing industrial action or where action is taken by workers without the right to take action, such as prison officers. Such instances are rare, as the workers taking unofficial or wildcat action expose themselves to summary dismissal by the employer without recourse to an employment tribunal.

The Civil Contingencies Act (2004) places a duty on certain organisations to have in place plans for maintaining key services in the event of significant workplace absences including strikes. Other critical sectors also have comprehensive plans in place.


The reasonable worst-case scenarios for industrial action are based on action being taken by a significant number of staff and/or staff in critical roles taking action over a prolonged period. In disrupting an organisation’s ability to function normally, industrial action can lead to temporary closures of sites, reductions in the availability of key services with impacts ranging from inconvenience and frustration to severe risk to welfare
and safety. Services might continue, but at a reduced capacity during a strike period. The disruption could lead to economic consequences.

Key assumptions

Different assumptions apply to industrial action in different sectors. For some sectors, the risk of industrial action has increased, due to external factors such economic pressures or changes to working conditions and other organisational changes. This is heightened by ongoing pay restraint in the context of inflation. Having a comprehensive engagement framework with recognised trade unions is an essential enabler to early dispute resolution and to averting industrial action. Depending on scale or duration of the strike pattern, industrial action can lead to disruption at the regional or national level.


Alternative scenarios include long periods of discontinuous industrial action and strike action by different groups of staff within the sector. Events may be localised or national, and the duration could vary significantly, which would impact the response. The duration of strike action can also be affected by the union’s agreement to, and ability to, offer strike pay to compensate striking workers for their loss of pay. Other factors that would exacerbate the impact of a strike include ongoing short- or long-term incidents or challenges.

Response capability requirements

Organisational resilience to industrial action varies by organisation and is typically a product of an organisation’s reliance on workers with special knowledge or skills, access to contingency labour and, to some extent, the ability to agree derogations to protect critical services during periods of strike action. Appropriate contingency arrangements are enacted while the matter is resolved and operators are required to maintain plans for business continuity. Wherever possible, the government encourages negotiation and mediation, such as via the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, as a means of resolving industrial action both before and during a strike.


Recovery is dependent on the sector and the duration and extent of the action, however for the majority of situations it is likely to be swift. There could be broader implications for relationships between staff and employers, and between striking and non striking staff.