Anti-strikes bill passed by MPs
As the UK continues to face a wave of industrial action, the Government introduced a new bill which aims to ensure that certain public services continue to operate during public sector strikes. The Strikes (Minimum Services Levels) Bill was passed by vote in the House of Commons, and will now go on to the House of Lords. If enacted, it will allow the Government to set certain minimum levels of service (“MSL”) across services such as ambulances, other health services, fire and rescue, education and transport. At present, there is no general requirement to maintain minimum services in key services under UK trade union laws (unlike in most European countries).
Work notices and enforcement
The details will be set out in future secondary legislation. The key mechanism is that an employer would be able to serve a work notice to the trade union which had served a notice of strike action on the employer. In the work notice, the employer would specify those individuals needed to maintain minimum service levels and what work they would need to do. Interestingly (and unlike the previous Transport Strikes Bill) there is no obligation for unions and employers to negotiate agreements as to what the minimum services level should be. Instead, the minimum service level will be set by the Business Secretary.
The strike would then cease to be protected by law if the union failed to take “reasonable steps” to comply with the work notice (and employees could lose their automatic protection from unfair dismissal). Employers could then take action against unions for losses too.
Clearly, the Bill represents significant and controversial change to UK trade union law. It is strongly opposed by the Unions, and promised to be repealed by the Labour Party, if enacted. Given timeframes involved, it can do little to resolve the current disruption. However, if enacted, it could severely limit trade unions’ powers to disrupt public services through lawful strikes in the future.