Nearly half (49%) of public sector workers are prepared to go on strike over the recently announced pay cuts and pensions changes, a new study by the CIPD has revealed.

Many public sector workers feel that they have to do what is necessary in order to protect their jobs, even if it means disrupting public services.

Nearly three-quarters of public sector employees n(74%) agree that, in light of the tough times endured by private sector staff through the recession, striking public sector workers will quickly lose sympathy if they cause disruption to the general public.

The survey also found that half (49%) of employees agree that most people today are not willing to lose pay to go on strike, rising to 54% among public sector staff.

When quizzed over their attitude to unions, over a third (36%) of respondents agree that unions provide essential protection for employees from bad management. However, 43% of employees agreed that unions are ‘good at pursuing their own political agendas rather than simply looking after the interests of their members’.

Overall, just under half of respondents (48%) agree they are more concerned about the damage strikes would cause than about the impact of spending cuts, with 26% disagreeing. More than half (53%) of private sector respondents agree, compared to 36% of public sector staff.

Mike Emmott, CIPD Employee Relations Adviser, commented: “These findings show that it is not just the government that has to tread softly in terms of how spending cuts are implemented.

“The trade unions too must understand that many private sector employees have already suffered pay freezes or cuts, job losses and cuts to pension entitlement and will be sensitive to any rhetoric by union leaders threatening strike action which does not appear to appreciate the sacrifices already made by those in the private sector.

“However, the Government too must understand that it also has a key role to help prevent major public sector disputes though the language it uses and how information and messages are timed and communicated.

“The Comprehensive Spending Review announcement will create a lot of anxiety and uncertainty and it is essential that, as the details of job cuts and any changes to pay or pension provision are announced over the next few months, public sector employers are allowed the necessary time to communicate and consult on what changes are being planned, and just as crucially – why. People are much more likely to accept tough messages if they are given the right information at the right time and feel that their views have at least been heard and taken into account before decisions are made.

“When the private sector went through the recession there were many positive examples of how employers and unions worked together in partnership to keep people in jobs. Examples included making compromises over pay and increases in flexible working, as well as things like extended leave. Partnership working already flourishes in many parts of the public sector but the extent of the changes in the pipeline may well stretch this to the limit in some cases. However, effective partnership between unions and employers can make a powerful contribution to ensuring that the government’s public sector reform agenda will be successful.”