Most employers fear increasing levels of industrial action in the next year, especially as public spending cuts start to take effect, a new study reveals.

A survey of 400 employers by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development showed that almost a third think strikes by their staff are likely.

The survey highlighted deteriorating employment relations in the public sector and a higher level of expectation that industrial action will be launched in the coming months than in private firms.

Relations between unions and management have deteriorated since 2008, with the number of employers saying the relations were “good” falling from 65 per cent to 55 per cent.

CIPD’s senior public policy adviser Ben Willmott said: “The survey highlights the impact that spending cuts are having on the employment relations climate. However, to what extent this deterioration in relations between management and unions will result in sustained strike action by public sector workers is still open to question.

“Our 2008 survey also found a third of employers anticipated strike action by staff over the next 12 months, but this did not materialise in a sudden increase in working days lost to strike action during 2009.

“What actually happened was that the economic crisis led to management and unions working together in the private sector in many cases to try and save jobs.

“While there is a lot of union rhetoric about the possibility of strike action - as there was in 2008 - when it comes to actually going on strike, employees today are much harder to mobilise than they were during past times of economic and social crisis.”

The Employment Relations Survey also found six in 10 employers see developing or maintaining employee engagement as the most likely (65 per cent) and most desirable (59 per cent) focus for developing positive employee relations in the future.