Strike (Minimum Service Levels) Bill Receives Royal Assent
Key Contact: Claire Knowles
Author: Laura Spence
As of 20th July 2023, the above Bill received Royal Assent. Following numerous occasions of disruption in recent years attributable to strikes across public services, this will be welcomed by many.
What does the Bill say?
The Bill sets minimum service levels which will balance the ability of workers to strike with the rights of the public, who require essential services to continue. The Government are hopeful that this will protect the safety of the general public- whether that be getting the train to work or calling an ambulance in an emergency.
In practice, where a union calls a strike, employers may, having first consulted the Union, distribute a “work notice.” The work notice will identify the workers that are required to work to ensure the minimum service levels are met during a strike. Importantly though, this should not be longer than is reasonably necessary (further guidance on what is reasonable is expected soon).
Failing to comply with the work notice will have serious consequences such as, workers’ loss of automatic unfair dismissal protection and unions losing immunity in tort law. Further, workers may find themselves subject to disciplinary action by their employers for non-compliance. It is therefore in everyone’s best interest to be fully aware of their rights and duties when striking.
Despite confirmation that the Bill will become law earlier in the summer, it is still unclear exactly when this will happen. What we do know is that it will take at least as long as it takes for secondary legislation to be introduced by Parliament for the relevant sectors. One of the provisions of the Bill is that it cannot come into effect until this crucial secondary legislation is introduced.
We also know that the relevant sectors will definitely include rail services, ambulance services and fire and rescue services.
It was also confirmed that a public consultation will be released this summer (albeit we are approaching the end of summer and still have not had sight of this) which will include useful guidance on the reasonable steps unions must take to comply with a work notice.
For many people, this demonstrates a proactive approach in combating disruption caused by striking to essential services. Unsurprisingly, this is welcomed by the average commuter.
On the other hand, Trade Unions have showed strong opposition to the legislation. Labour have also pledged to repeal the law if they get into Government.
Other concerns include the Bill’s sole focus on striking, with other forms of industrial action being omitted completely.
Whilst the feedback is mixed, the Government have provided assurance that the ability to strike will remain an important part in UK industrial action. This will remain protected by law however, this will be balanced with the need to mitigate disruption strikes can have. The Government are hopeful this Bill provides a good middle ground for both sides.
For any queries on the Bill, please contact the Employment team.
Check out our upcoming Acuity Law Wellbeing at Work Conference here.