The winter of discontent: How can organizations deal with comms around strikes?

by | Dec 12, 2022 | Public Relations

It feels like we are entering the winter of discontent again—whether it’s rail workers, nurses, teachers and driving examiners, it would seem everyone is taking strike action as they call for pay rises in line with inflation. Even ambulance workers are to hold their first strike for thirty years.

While most employers will look to avoid industrial action, there may therefore come a time in every unionized employer’s existence when such action is threatened.

Good communication around strikes can be challenging

Agencies or organizations attempting to manage communication around such strikes must balance the need to maintain positive relations with staff and trade unions, whilst at the same time protecting their business. In terms of internal communications, employers should engage directly with employees and avoid allowing conversations to be funneled through the trade union with which they are negotiating. This will help to ensure that the communication accurately represents the employer’s current position. It may also prevent issues from needlessly escalating through a process of Chinese whispers.

With external communications, it can be trickier to control the narrative

There are some hugely effective union representatives, including RMT general secretary Mick Lynch, who is arguably the most well-known union official and has shown himself to be a master communicator. Despite the disruption, Mr. Lynch has been able to win over the public and has been consistently praised by his supporters for his clear communication style and for getting one over his opponents with blunt politeness.

In order to counter that, it’s important to be equally clear in your communications

It’s crucial to ensure you get the right information out and across all channels—including the media, your website, social media channels. It’s key that wherever customers or stakeholders get their information they can find it easily. The statement should provide clear detail on how the strike will affect stakeholders. It should also reassure all audiences affected that the employer is working collaboratively to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

With an increasing number of strikes planned, there is a danger that the public become desensitized to strike action and zone out. The information you choose to communicate must therefore be clear, concise and provide the information that is required—so if trains are cancelled, does it affect all services; if ambulance workers are on strike, what do you do in the case of a genuine emergency?

By providing this information as soon as possible you can remove some of the uncertainty around planned strike action and allow people to make alternative plans where possible. It’s equally important that if plans change last minute and strikes are suspended or cancelled that you communicate that quickly and clearly, to prevent an information vacuum from developing.

Louise Stewart
Louise Stewart is Partner at Penta.