The ability for workers to communicate more rapidly using tools such as social media could lead to increased levels of difficult-to-manage unofficial industrial action, the conciliation service Acas has warned.
Such technology is changing the way that staff are able to organise and means that demonstrations and flash mobs can be arranged at the push of a button. Participants can also communicate instantly not just at the national but also at the international level.
Acas’ chief conciliator Peter Harwood pointed to last year’s wildcat strikes at the Lindsey oil refinery as a case in point. “The Lindsey dispute was characterised by the setting up of networking groups. There was a website and text message and email groups, enabling demonstrators to communicate rapidly across the country and to expand the action to over 20 other major construction sites within hours,” he said.
But the lack of official leadership in such disputes meant that negotiating became more complex and resolution harder to achieve.
“Employers and unions need to understand the role of new technology and not just leave it to their IT departments,” Harwood said.
But he added that while new media could pose new problems, the solutions remained the same. “Prevention is better than cure. It is essential that employers, managers and trade union representatives improve communication and engagement so that potential issues that may cause conflict are aired and listened to and early action taken,” Harwood warned.