New Strike Laws Announced
A ‘perfect storm’ of factors have come together to mobilise unions and staff to participate in industrial action. The General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress, Paul Nowak is reported in December 2022 to have warned of a “rolling wave” of industrial action in 2023 with unions coordinating strikes on the same day.
In the wake of the disruption and anticipated continued strikes, the government has introduced a new bill intended to ensure that vital public services will have to maintain a basic function and deliver minimum safety levels during industrial action.
The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 provides statutory immunities which means that trade unions and individual workers can, in certain circumstances, organise industrial action without the risk of being subject to legal action from the employer provided that particular steps are taken
New proposed anti-strike law
Minimum safety levels will be set for fire, ambulance and rail services and the government will consult on the adequate level of coverage for these sectors, recognising that disruption to "blue light" services puts lives at immediate risk. The details on what minimum service levels look like for specific services will be consulted on by relevant government departments and set out in regulations. Minimum safety levels could include maintaining core service provision in emergency services and ensuring key transport, travel and trade routes do not completely shut down on strike days.
For the other sectors covered in the bill, which includes health services, education, nuclear decommissioning, other transport services and border security, the government expects to continue to reach voluntary agreements, and would only look to consult on minimum safety levels should these voluntary positions not be agreed.
Trade unions will be bound to follow the new laws and will risk an employer bringing an injunction to prevent the strike from taking place or seeking damages afterwards if they do not comply with their obligations. However, how quickly any proposed legislation comes into force remains to be seen with the unions stating that they will challenge the government's proposals.