Is the end near for public service industrial action?
Industrial action where strike action is taken in response to unresolved workplace disputes has been a well-established form of protest in Great Britain for decades.
Amid the current cost of living crisis, public industry workers including NHS staff, public transport workers and teachers have conducted mass walkouts in response to concerns regarding their treatment, pay and working environment.
In response to the growing industrial turmoil and the prospect of further strikes across public services, the Government has announced its intention to legislate on a wider basis via the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill 2022-23.
What is the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill 2022-23?
On 10 January 2023, the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill 2022-23 had its first reading in the House of Commons. This Bill, if passed, would allow the government to make regulations prescribing minimum service levels during a strike in:
- Fire and Rescue;
- Border control; and
- Radioactive waste management services.
The detail of the minimum service levels themselves would be outlined in further regulations. This article gives a short summary of the potential changes that this Bill looks to introduce.
The Government has outlined its intention is “to ensure that striking workers don’t put the public’s lives at risk and prevent people getting to work, accessing healthcare and safely going about their daily lives”.
Minimum service regulations
Before making such regulations, the Secretary of State would have to consult “such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”. Any proposed regulations would still require the approval of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
If these new regulations are introduced, the intention is that when a union successfully calls for workers to strike, the employer would be allowed to give the union a “work notice” at least 7 days before the first day of the strike. This notice will:
- identify the reasonably necessary workers that are required to work; and
- the work they are required to do during the strike to meet the minimum service levels.
Loss of union immunity
The effect of the regulations is for the Unions to lose their immunity from liability in relation to the strike if they fail to take reasonable steps to ensure compliance with the work notice by any union members identified in it.
The employer would also be entitled to sue the union for damages caused by any failure to take reasonable steps.
Loss of unfair dismissal protection
If an employee were to take place in a strike who has been identified in a work notice, they would lose the current protection in place from being dismissed if they were to strike. The current provisions in place for unfair dismissal would not apply to an employee named in the work notice if they continued to strike.
We will continue to follow the progress of this Bill and keep you updated. If you have any questions or require any legal advice regarding your employees or your employment the Corporate and Commercial team at Wansbroughs would be happy to advise you further. Please contact us at email@example.com or 01380 733300.