‘Strikes Bill’ now in force
26 July 2023
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill received Royal Assent on 20 July 2023. The new Act has introduced a power for the Government to set minimum levels of service during periods of strike action affecting certain key public services.
Minimum service levels will be brought into force via secondary legislation once this is passed by Parliament. Consultations have already taken place in relation to minimum service levels applying to passenger rail services, ambulance services and fire and rescue services. The Government has not issued its response to these consultations, so the applicable service levels have not yet been confirmed and there is currently no date for them to take effect.
Once minimum service levels have been put in place in respect of a relevant service, an employer will be entitled to give a ‘work notice’ to a trade union in relation to strike action it has called. This is a notice in writing that levels of service under the applicable minimum service regulations will apply, specifying those who are required to work during the strike and the work required to be carried out by them. This notice is subject to a requirement for prior consultation with the trade union, and it must be given at least seven days before the relevant strike day.
The union must take reasonable steps to ensure that members who are identified in any ‘work notice’ comply with it. The Government has confirmed that it will be issuing a consultation on what ‘reasonable steps’ a union will be required to take. A statutory Code of Practice has also been promised to clarify the obligations of trade unions. This has not yet been published but it is expected that the consultation will take place during the summer.
As a result of the new Act, an employee who is identified in a valid work notice but who participates in the strike is no longer protected from automatic unfair dismissal. Trade unions will also lose the current protection from being sued for damages if they do not take ‘reasonable steps’ to comply with their obligations under the Act.
According to the Government press release, the introduction of minimum service levels will “balance the ability of workers to strike with the rights of the public, who expect essential services they pay for to be there when they need them”. There is no doubt that as a result of the new Act and minimum service levels, the impact of strike action will be considerably curtailed. The Labour Party has already promised to repeal the Act if it wins the next General Election.
The content of this article is for general information only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. If you require any further information in relation to this article please contact the author in the first instance. Law covered as at July 2023.