Strike Bill: what you need to know as an employer
On 20 October 2022 against a backdrop of national strikes, the government introduced the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. The Bill, which had barely progressed through the House Commons, has now been replaced by the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. Introduced on 10 January 2023, this Bill has already received considerable resistance. Here are the key questions relating to the proposed new legislation.
Who does the Strike Bill apply to?
The former Bill related to ‘specified transport services’, although a list of what this included was never confirmed. The new Bill is much broader covering transport, ambulance and fire services, health, education, border security and nuclear decommissioning.
What is the Strike Bill?
The new proposals give the Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy the power to set minimum service levels on these sectors in the event of a strike. These can be imposed even after a trade union has announced a strike.
How must employers manage strike action under the Bill?
Once the minimum service level has been set, employers must issue a ‘work notice’ to the union identifying which employees will be required to work during the strike and what type of work they must do.
The notice must not specify more people than are reasonably necessary to provide the services and no regard must be taken of union membership when identifying who is required to work.
What happens if a work notice is ignored?
Employees are normally protected if they take part in strike action, but under the proposed new legislation, they would lose those employment protections or be dismissed if they take part in a strike after being identified in a work notice.
What can employers do if their employees go on an unprotected strike?
Employers would be able to sue trade union for losses arising from strike action if the union failed to take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure its members complied with a work notice. Employers would not however be able to claim damages for losses they would have suffered if the union members had complied with the work notice.
What does the Strike Bill mean for trade unions?
In the previous Bill, employers could negotiate with trade unions and, if no agreement could be reached, arbitrate through the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC). The Secretary of State could issue regulations, but these would not apply where there was an agreement or CAC decision.
Under the proposed new Bill, when determining minimum service levels, the Secretary of State is required to consult with ‘such persons they consider appropriate’. This is likely to include unions, but securing their agreement is not a requirement. Employers are also required to consult unions and ‘have regard’ to their views but again, they are not required to secure the union’s agreement.
What are the potential issues of the Strike Bill?
There are significant issues with the proposed new legislation. Specifically, the Bill does not set out what the minimum service levels should be and what criteria or guidelines they should be based on.
There is no mention of minimum safety levels anywhere in the Bill, despite the government’s emphasis on the importance of safety in key public services.
Given that the Bill also covers education, the government looks to be thinking beyond public safety in limiting industrial action. In effect, the government is giving itself sweeping powers whilst purporting to only use them for limited purposes.
What comes next?
MPs will get a chance to debate the Bill next week. After the Bill makes it through the House of Commons, it is expected to face considerable opposition in the House of Lords.
The Bill will not have an impact on the strikes this month, which are still set to go ahead. Undoubtedly, it will continue to attract much debate and scrutiny in the coming weeks.