Upcoming strike action: how will it impact your small business?

Our 2023 strikes tracker will keep small business owners up-to-date on all planned worker action, and its potential impact.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Small businesses have lost out on 680,000 days of trading per month, due to industrial action, according to new data from small business lender iwoca.

Cumulatively, this totals just over four million days of trading lost across six months – around 0.7 days for each of the UK’s 5.6 million SMEs.

Strike action has taken its toll on the day-to-day running of UK businesses. 31% of companies taking part in the analysis reported that strikes have had a negative impact on their business.

On one hand, employees from a range of industries and organisations have now successfully secured pay rises. RMT union members last week accepted a 14% wage increase, putting an end to months of chaos for commuters.

Yet more strikes are on the way over the next few months. This International Worker’s Day, we’re unveiling our 2023 strikes tracker. We’ll record all upcoming protests as and when they are announced, as well as offer a quick explainer of how your business might be impacted.

UK strikes tracker

We’ll be updating the below list with any new strike updates as and when they are announced, to keep SMEs in the loop about how worker action might affect their operations.

Train strikes

Members of the RMT Union (20,000 train managers, caterers and station staff) and ASLEF members of staff who work for 16 train companies will walk out following disputes over pay and working conditions.

June 2023

  • Friday 2 June
  • Saturday 3 June

May 2023

  • Saturday 13 May
  • Friday 12 May
  • Wednesday 31 May

Any weekday strikes will affect employees commuting to their workplace – particularly around London and the Midlands, where ASLEF companies largely operate.

Small businesses in Liverpool saw the biggest impact from the earlier date, as Eurovision fans’ travel plans to the ‘capital city of pop’ are disrupted.

Teacher strikes

Teachers went on strike as part of National Education Union (NEU) action. Small businesses who employ working parents will need to consider how this might affect their childcare plans. Hybrid office could allow impacted staff members to work from home, for example.

May 2023

  • Tuesday 2 May

The NEU executive will next meet on 17 June to decide whether to take further strike action in the week commencing 3 July.

Heathrow Airport strikes

Security officers at Heathrow airport went on strike for eight days in May. Companies that operate abroad, or do business with foreign partners, were most likely to have been impacted.

The action also coincided with the coronation bank holiday weekend, which means SMEs in London could have been affected by a drop in the number of foreign tourists visiting.

May 2023

  • Thursday 4 – Saturday 6 May
  • Tuesday 9 – Wednesday 10 May
  • Thursday 25 – Saturday 27 May

How have strikes impacted UK small businesses?

The UK is currently seeing the most significant wave of staff revolts since the 1980s miners’ strike.

More than two million working days were lost to private and public industrial action in 2022. Staff members across organisations from the Rugby Union to BT Group have united to lobby against real wage pay losses caused by inflation.

30% of the 500 small business owners who were surveyed said the strikes had affected their company negatively. Only 3% said they had been impacted positively.

On a scale of very positive, to very negative, what effect have industrial strikes over the past six months had on your business?Percentage of respondents
Very positive effect1%
Fairly positive effect2%
No effect66%
Fairly negative effect24%
Very negative effect7%
Don't know2%

While most small businesses do not employ striking workers, they rely upon many of the services offered by those taking action. Lots of sellers, for example, use the post office to send their items to buyers.

Accordingly, the most commonly cited business challenge caused by strike action was delays to customer orders. Worker action at major couriers like Amazon has dramatically reduced the number of drivers on the road.

One in five survey respondents told iwoca that their parcels hadn’t arrived at customer doorsteps on time, jeopardising existing customer relationships when most small firms are already experiencing a squeeze on profits.

Outside of deliveries, 18% of business owners said they had adapted work plans to accommodate the strikes. Meanwhile, 1 in 10 reported being unable to get to work, or having to refuse work, as a result of the train strikes.

Which of these statements applies to you?Percentage of respondents
A customer order has been delayed due to postal strikes21%
I have had to change my work plans due to strikes18%
I and/or an employee have been unable to get to work because of train strikes6%
I have been unable to take on work due to train strikes4%
None of these apply to me65%

Business support for strikes remains largely unchanged

While the strikes have had a negative impact on some small businesses, 34% of SME owners in the iwoca survey said they remained onside with striking workers.

SME opinions on strikes have largely been solidified since June 2022. 43% of entrepreneurs said they had not changed their views on strikes in the preceding six months.

Meanwhile, 22% of small businesses have felt more supportive of the ongoing striking workers since summer. Only 32% said their support has fallen.

This could be due to how quickly SMEs have adapted to remote working post-COVID. Tellingly, 66% of business owners said the strikes had not caused any disruption to their operations.

The majority of organisations have adopted a hybrid working policy in the past two years. As a result, many have been able to easily shift their operations to adapt to any disruption caused, waving goodbye to pre-COVID traditions like the daily commute.

Small business owners back future strikes – but call for resolution

As the UK moves into a new FY, companies should be prepared for looming strike action to hit balance sheets. Civil service staff will strike on April 28, which could impede business admin tasks, such as last minute payroll submissions.

For those needing to travel nationally or abroad for work, there are multiple storms brewing.

3,100 National Express bus drivers are undertaking indefinite strike action as of 20 March until an acceptable pay deal is reached. Security workers at Heathrow Airport will also be striking from 31 March.

As some transport, healthcare and teaching unions suspend strike action after accepting new deals, SME owners welcome cooperation between employers and workers to resolve any upcoming protests.

In fact, more than eight in ten SMEs (82%) believe that employers and workers should come to an agreement without the need to strike.

Colin Goldstein, Commercial Director at iwoca, said: “While strikes have impacted industries across the board, we’re now starting to see the ripple effect of sustained industrial action on small businesses.

“If you’re one of the UK’s 5.5 million small businesses, you now have to contend with lost trading days due to strikes as well as the rising cost of doing business, including spiralling energy costs and inflation.”

To ready their business for the inevitable repercussions, we recommend entrepreneurs use our Startups business continuity plan. It will help you to deal with unpredictable events – of which SMEs have had more than their fair share over the past half a decade.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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