Cumbria Times
Weekend Edition
1:16 PM 16th November 2023

Government Takes Further Steps To Tackle Disruption If Strikes Called Over Christmas


The Government has today (16 November 2023) taken further steps to ensure essential public services remain open during industrial action.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Following Royal Assent of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act in July, guidance has now been published to support employers, trade unions and workers with issuing work notices.

Where strike action is called and where minimum service level regulations are in place, employers can issue work notices to identify people who are required to work to help ensure the minimum service levels are met. Today’s guidance will support employers, trade unions and workers on issuing these work notices.

Earlier this week, the Government also laid a Code of Practice in Parliament which sets out the reasonable steps trade unions should take to ensure their members comply with work notices and help ensure minimum service levels are met. The government response to the public consultation on the Code of Practice was also published.

The reasonable steps include but are not limited to, clearly identifying members, contacting those named in a work notice and advising them not to strike, and seeking to avoid encouraging those named in a work notice not to cross a picket line.

If a union fails to take these reasonable steps, they will lose their legal protection from damages claims and possible injunctions. Last year we raised the maximum damages that courts can award against a union for unlawful strike action. For the biggest unions, the maximum award has risen from £250,000 to £1 million.

Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake said:
"The ability to strike needs to be balanced with ensuring people continue to have access to essential services.

"Businesses should also not have their freedoms restricted by burdensome regulations that aren’t justified. This is why we are seeking views on removing such unnecessary rules, so businesses are able to decide for themselves what staffing is required."

Last week, the government announced Minimum Service Levels legislation is to be passed for passenger rail, ambulance and border security staff. This legislation brings us in line with countries like France, Italy, Spain and the US where public services reliably continue during strikes. The International Labour Organisation also recognises Minimum Service Levels as a sensible solution to protect the public from serious consequences of strikes.

The Minimum Service Levels are designed to be effective and proportionate by balancing the ability to take strike action with ensuring we can keep our borders secure, supporting people to make important journeys including accessing work, education, and healthcare, and allowing people to get the emergency care they need.

The Government is also launching a consultation on removing outdated regulations which currently prevent agency workers from covering strikes. Under these proposals, agency workers would be able to provide temporary cover in all sectors. Employment businesses must satisfy themselves that any worker supplied is suitably qualified in order to maintain high standards of service.

Regulation 7 of the Conduct Regulations currently prevents employment businesses (often referred to as agencies) from supplying agency workers to replace workers who are taking part in an official strike or other industrial action. Repealing this regulation would not affect the ability of workers to strike or the protections workers on strike currently enjoy.

It would permit, but not require, businesses to bring in agency staff during a strike if they wish to do so and give employment businesses more flexibility in how they support their clients when faced with industrial action, such as strikes. It would also allow workers the freedom to accept roles that involve temporarily replacing workers taking part in strikes.