On 10 January 2023 the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill was introduced to Parliament by Business Secretary Grant Schapps. This Bill is similar to the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill which was introduced in October of last year. The aim of that Bill was to legally oblige unions and employers to agree a skeleton level of service while strikes were ongoing in the transport sector.
This new Bill introduces a much broader scope. It applies to health services, fire and rescue services, education services, transport services, decommissioning of nuclear installations, management of radioactive waste and spent fuel and border security.
This Bill would give the Business Secretary a power to create regulations which will set out a minimum level of service in the event of a strike. The employer would then need to issue a work notice which would set out the employees required to meet the regulated minimum service needs. The union would then have to ensure that the work notice is complied with and if this is not done the strike will be considered unlawful.
The employees identified in the work notice would lose protection against dismissal if they were to take part in the strike. Additionally, the employer would be able to sue the union if it did not take reasonable steps to ensure its members comply.
One of the major criticisms of this Bill is that there is no definition, criteria or guidance as to what a necessary minimum level of service means. The Business Secretary must consult before any regulations are passed but the fear is that the Government is granting itself quite extensive powers with limited oversight.
The Government’s response to this is to say that it would aim to agree a minimum service level and the powers included in the Bill would not need to be used.
Grant Schapps used the most recent ambulance strike as an example, stating that because of an unwillingness to engage in discussion on the part of the unions a minimum level of service was not agreed. A situation this Bill would prevent. However, this has been described as “a lie” by Unison who claimed the workers are staggering the strike action so that necessary services can be maintained.
It has also been noted that similar frameworks exist in other countries in Europe- namely France and Spain. It has been pointed out that in these countries the level of minimum service is based on voluntary agreements as opposed to legislation and are less punitive.
This Bill still has a long way to go before any law is enacted. In the meantime, employers should keep an open dialogue with any recognised unions to help ensure that industrial action is avoided.
If you have any questions on any of the issues raised in the above article, please contact Natalia Milne.