Government introduces laws to mitigate the disruption of strikes on the public
The Government has recently announced that it will be introducing a law to mitigate the disruption that recent strikes and industrial action has had on the public. Over the last few months, various public sector employees have opted to strike, mostly in relation to pay and working conditions, which has caused severe disruption to the running of the UK.
Whilst many employees have the right to strike as a part of their union, the timings and number of recent strikes have led to the proposed new legislation.
What is the new legislation proposal?
The new legislation will allow the Business Secretary to decide a statutory minimum service level for various public sector services, including but not limited to education, health and emergency services.
The numerous strikes, especially by the emergency services, may have placed the public’s lives at risk and it is hoped that the new reform will ensure that a minimum service level is ensured to prevent this in the future.
Currently, the Government is only hoping that they will be required to use the new power to impose a minimum service level in relation to the emergency and transport services, rather than all the sectors included in the Bill.
Whilst it has been stated that there will be minimum service levels, these have not yet been outlined, but employers will be able to issue “work notices” to unions, stating who is required to work during a period of industrial action.
The hope is that employers and unions will consult on the practicalities of any proposed strike action before it takes place to ensure that the service levels are achieved.
How should employers handle strike action?
Unions must ensure that they comply with the new obligations, or they will lose their legal protection from damages. The new legislation will not stop unions and staff from striking, but rather it aims to limit the damage that the strikes have on the general public and their wellbeing.
If employers cannot reach the agreed or enforced minimum service levels due to the number of staff striking, then those employees who breach the minimum service level could be dismissed.
Whilst currently striking employees are afforded various protections, the new legislation will remove the right to protection from automatic unfair dismissal for any employee who is issued with a work notice but opts to strike, anyway.
Once further details of the minimum service levels are provided, employers should carry out risk assessments to establish whether cover arrangements will need to be organised, the business will be required to close or partially close and they should communicate fully and openly with staff in advance of any strike action.
If you would like any advice on how to deal with industrial action, please get in touch with a member of our employment law specialist team on 01752 663295.