Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.
workers on strike | accountingweb | if we had unions would accountants be on strike
iStock_mechichi_strike

Are striking changes ahead for the profession?

by

As KPMG announces a pay freeze and PwC cuts 600 staff members, Philip Fisher wonders what would happen if we had unions. Would accountants be on strike?

7th Dec 2023
Save content
Have you found this content useful? Use the button above to save it to your profile.

A couple of weeks ago, AccountingWEB reported that PwC was looking to shed 600 members of its UK workforce.

More recently, another Big Four firm, KPMG, has taken a different cost-cutting route, effecting what is almost a total pay freeze, although reportedly the 6% of staff who have received promotions in the last year will receive an increment.

Like PwC, KPMG is also looking to “restructure” its consultancy practice and expects this to result in the loss of 100 employees.

As a reminder, all of this is happening in the midst of the cost-of-living crisis with inflation running at close to 5% and food inflation still around 10%.

On the other side of the equation, equity partners at the two firms are maintaining average profit shares in the region of £1m a year, so can hardly be said to be on the breadline.

Taken by surprise

These two stories will have come as a surprise, if not a shock, to many in the profession who are still struggling to recruit staff and would not have the audacity to freeze pay, if only because they don’t want to risk losing highly trained and well-embedded colleagues.

It will be fascinating to see which route other firms follow over the next year. It might well be that some will be delightedly recruiting those released by major practices, while others could spot an opportunity to headhunt stars of the future, far from happy at seeing their pay diminishing significantly in real terms.

The bigger question is whether the profession generally comes to the same conclusion as these two practices, foreseeing a slowdown on the horizon and identifying a need to cut costs.

What is happening in the world of accountancy contrasts starkly with so many news stories over the past 12 months relating to workers in other professions and industries. It seems that barely a day passes by without news of further strikes, whether it be nurses, doctors, train drivers, airport workers or teachers.

That is because workers in each of these industries are represented by trade unions. When they see mass redundancies looming, shop stewards and general secretaries step in to negotiate the best terms for those who are about to lose out.

Similarly, if pay has not risen in line with inflation for year after year and what they regard as another derisory offer is put on the table, they stand strong, persuade members of the need to strike and temporarily bring employers to their knees.

Trade union for accountants

Just imagine if 100 years ago some bright spark had decided to set up an effective trade union for accountants.

Instead of rich partners who run large firms hiring and firing willy-nilly, freezing pay, or offering below-inflation rises and generally taking staff for granted, they might have been obliged to enter into negotiations either at a firm-wide level or even nationally.

Realistically, it is hard to imagine accountants going on strike and, even if they did so, arguably the world would barely suffer. However, it would force those in power to behave more generously. It would also be a means of negotiating better deals on work-life balance across the profession including limiting working hours and standardising working-from-home policies, as well as promoting the case for the perennially disadvantaged such as ethnic minorities and, even today, members of the fair sex.

The irony is that this might even have been in the employers’ best interests as well. This is likely to become apparent if KPMG and PwC discover that their less-than-subtle efforts to dispense with unwanted members of staff backfires and leads to departures by those whom they truly value and are desperate to retain.

After all, everyone at each of the firms is likely to be unsettled by an uncomfortable environment as many fear imminent redundancy or face the prospect of being unable to pay soaring mortgage or rental costs without an inflation-backed pay rise.

Few of us could really imagine the accounting world turning but it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility to imagine that one day staff at one of the larger firms might say “enough is enough” and collectively stand up for their rights.

Replies (8)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

avatar
By FactChecker
07th Dec 2023 19:01

"What is happening in the world of accountancy contrasts starkly with so many news stories over the past 12 months relating to workers in other professions and industries. It seems that barely a day passes by without news of further strikes, whether it be nurses, doctors, train drivers, airport workers or teachers."

Everyone knows someone who will suffer directly when a nurse (or doctor / train driver / teacher) goes on strike ... which can't be said for the majority of the voting public with regard to accountants.

"Realistically .. (if accountants went on strike) .. it would force those in power to behave more generously."

Who are these people 'in power'?
If you mean Senior Partners in national firms then say so, because owners of the typical small firm (who I believe employ the majority of accountants) don't tend to react well to organised labour.

It's an interesting 'mind game' (like a Christmas parlour game) but unrelated to reality.

Thanks (3)
avatar
By Calculatorboy
07th Dec 2023 22:47

Accountants are too timid to join unions

Thanks (0)
avatar
By Ian McTernan CTA
08th Dec 2023 10:31

Terrible fluff piece with wokism and jealousy to the fore.
'rich partners who run firms hiring and firing willy-nilly'...seriously? 'in power?'.
The big firms have always restructured divisions and done what they think is best for themselves- think of how they got to partner in the first place...
As for most of the strikers, getting paid more than many jobs in the private sector with job security, huge pensions, etc it's the unions flexing again with the knowledge it's almost impossible to sack the staff: not so hard for an accountancy firm to make you redundant.
Would I want to have to pay subs into a union (whether I wanted to or not, peer pressure is rife in those sectors) and be told 'we're voting for strike action because a teacher might be sacked' (never mind that they are totally useless and deserve it)? No.

Thanks (2)
avatar
By gahamwebb3
08th Dec 2023 11:21

Anyone who goes on strike, or threatens to go on strike, forfeits the right to be considered a 'professional' or 'professional in their approach to their work'. Sadly our doctors have already crossed that threshold. There are plenty of ways for an intelligent accountant in the private sector to negotiate his or her appropriate terms and conditions with their employer, and (as always) one can change employer if not satisfied. Threatening to down tools would be just the proof of stupidity.

Thanks (1)
avatar
By GrayMan
08th Dec 2023 11:30

I’ve never been on strike in my life although I was in a union during my early years in the inland revenue. It seems they perpetually work to rule throughout nowadays! I did though leave my next employer when they decided to close the chartered accountants' pension scheme. We knew graduated contributions would be valueless, and three of us asked them to contribute to annuities for us instead but were refused. Fortunately, I’d built up a good relationship with the clients I’d handled for many years, and numerous approached me whom I accepted as clients after I left. The others did the same. One of the partners who confided in me later said it was one of the worst mistakes they ever made. I can appreciate firms need to discard non or under performers now & then but unless many of their clients are going out of business and their fee income has been greatly reduced it is not fair to ask staff to bear the brunt of this and could be counterproductive.

Thanks (1)
7om
By Tom 7000
08th Dec 2023 16:43

I thought striking was a blue collar thing ?

Thanks (0)
Replying to Tom 7000:
By Silver Birch Accts
08th Dec 2023 19:17

Ask the junior doctors if they consider themselves 'blue collar' when they strike this Christmas.

Thanks (0)
avatar
By AndyC555
13th Dec 2023 16:19

"Instead of rich partners who run large firms hiring and firing willy-nilly, freezing pay, or offering below-inflation rises and generally taking staff for granted"

I expect they all wear top hats, have monocles and sit on piles of cash they have stashed in caves whilst laughing maniacally.

Thanks (0)