Strikes, which occur when employees stop working in order to protest or demand better working conditions, can have a major impact on the economy. Up until 2022 the UK had seen a decline in strike activity, with only 276,000 workers participating in strikes in 2018, down from 1.9 million workers in 1979. However, from June to December 2022, it is estimated that 2.4 million days were lost in the UK due to strike action brought forward by a number of different industry sectors such as railways, postal services, nursing and teaching.
The effects of these strikes on businesses are significant, as production can come to a halt and orders be delayed or cancelled. This leads to financial losses and possibly harm the reputation of a company. Furthermore, strikes can also lead to a decreased level of consumer confidence, as customers lose faith and become wary of investing or purchasing during times of uncertainty.
On a wider scale, strikes can affect the economy by decreasing productivity and economic growth. According to The Guardian, the 2022 and 2023 the rail strikes alone have so far resulted in costs to the UK economy that are north of £1bn, and it would have potentially been cheaper to settle the dispute months earlier.
Alongside the more obvious financial impact of strike days, there is a secondary issue of changed behaviours which also contributes to losses. One example would be from the current teachers strikes and the impact they may have on parents, who could potentially have to work reduced hours or not at all to accommodate childcare needs.
It is calculated that small business owners could have lost up to 680,000 days of trading over the last 6 months due to strike action, with a third of SME owners reporting a negative impact on their business. These lost days, in tandem with the spiralling costs of running a business are currently resulting in an extremely tough trading environment and with more strikes planned for the coming months, companies are understandably concerned about their continuing impact on both the economy and individual businesses.
Further information on the economic impact of strike days can be seen here
Bank holidays, which are days when most businesses close in observance of a national or religious holiday, also have a complicated impact on the economy. In the UK, there are currently eight bank holidays throughout the year, however 2022 saw the addition of two extra days, one for the Platinum Jubiliee celebrations and one for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. This is followed in 2023 with a further extra bank holiday scheduled to coincide with the Coronation of King Charles III.
Whilst many welcome these unexpected days off work, which can offer positive effects on mental health and work-life balance, the extra days can also result in a loss of productivity for businesses. With most establishments closed, many workers have the day off, leading to decreased output and revenue, although there is no exact figure, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, each public holiday costs the UK approximately £2.3bn in lost productivity.
Despite historical evidence of growth in certain sectors such as hospitality and tourism over bank holiday weekends, GDP still fell significantly in June and September 2022, just as it has previously shown to do in earlier jubilee years.
Many people do, however, take advantage of the long weekends to travel, visit family, or participate in events and activities, which can have a very positive impact on stimulating local economies. Businesses that remain open during bank holidays may see increased revenue from customers who have the extra free time.
It is clear that both strikes and bank holidays can have a significant impact on the economy of the UK. While strikes can result in decreased productivity and financial losses for businesses, arguably, the negative aspects of bank holidays could be mitigated by increased consumer spending and tourism, as well as improved work-life balance for employees. As such, it is important for businesses and the government to consider the potential economic effects of strikes and bank holidays in order to make informed decisions.
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