The Memo: UK government’s anti-strike bill enters the picture

The Memo Landing Page.png

UK government’s anti-strike bill enters the picture

Alice Gregory – 16th January 2023

In many ways, the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 will be remembered for much the same thing – strikes. So what better time to take a closer look into UK strike law?

Although striking is lawful, there’s a long list of strict conditions that must be met to ensure that those taking action can be protected from dismissal. Firstly, a strike can only be called to address a specific trade dispute with your employer. This is from a set list that includes employment T&Cs, working conditions, termination, and allocation of work. Once this dispute has been established, a union must properly organise a ballot to vote for a strike (once again, subject to a long list of specific conditions), and then warn their employer at least 7 days before beginning industrial action. Failing to comply with any of these rules means employers have the right to sack striking employees. Secondary, or ‘sympathy’ action – when workers take action against another employer – is also classed as unlawful. Picketing too is lawful if unions adhere to a number of strict policies, such as the appointment of a picketing supervisor. Unions can face legal action if they fail to comply with any of these strike laws, meaning they can be taken to court by employers, suppliers or customers and may pay steep damages.

Rishi Sunak’s proposed anti-strike bill will take these measures a step further. The aim of the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2022 (as it’s formally labelled) is said to be ensuring a ‘minimum level of service’ for the public, although damage to the economy is listed as another concern. The bill aims to place limits on industrial action that is currently protected by law. Once an employer has been warned of upcoming strike action, they will be free to provide a notice to employees to ensure ‘minimum service.’ This notice will list the names of employees who must continue working during the strikes, and the duties they are expected to carry out.

While the government has likened the bill to legislation in other European countries, union critics have raised concerns that the bill threatens to set itself against the freedom of assembly and association protected by article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Regardless of the bill’s success in parliament however, it is unlikely to do much to ease the tensions that have come to define political discourse in the new year.