The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill (the Bill) was introduced to the UK parliament on 10 January 2023 and underwent its second reading on 16 January 2023. It is now at the Committee Stage. In this article, we explore the current provisions of the Bill and the implications this will have on existing legislation if passed.
What is the purpose of the Bill?
The Bill was introduced in response to the increased levels of industrial action that have been seen across the UK over the past 12 months and is described by the government as being for the purpose of ensuring “the safety of the public and their access to public services”.
It would give the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (the BEIS Secretary) power to determine minimum service levels that must be maintained during strike action in a number of specified sectors.
The sectors to which the Bill applies are:
- Fire Rescue
- Border Security
- Nuclear Decommissioning
The government has stated that the initial focus would be consulting on the required minimum levels of service in the rail, fire and ambulance sectors, with attention then turning to other sectors if necessary. However, it is hoped by the government that “sensible and voluntary agreements” would be reached in the remaining three sectors to avoid any need to impose minimum service levels. However, the BEIS Secretary has said that it would “step in and set minimum service levels should that become necessary”.
What are the provisions of the Bill?
If the Bill is enacted, the BEIS Secretary would have the ability to impose minimum service levels if these cannot be agreed voluntarily, or if voluntary service levels have been agreed but are not being complied with. It will be necessary for employers in the relevant sectors to identify the employees required to continue working during any strike action to ensure that the required minimum levels of service are being provided. This would be communicated to the relevant trade union(s) via a work notice.
Trade unions will, in turn, be required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure that any members identified in the work notice comply with it. If the union fails to do so, it will lose its immunity under section 219 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA) from being sued in respect of the strike action. The losses which could be claimed against the union would be limited to those that would not have been suffered had the work notice been complied with. Additionally, any workers who continue to strike despite having been identified as a necessary worker under the relevant work notice will lose their protection from automatic unfair dismissal.
It is important to note that the Bill differs from the earlier Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill which was tabled in 2022 but did not progress past the first reading. The new Bill gives powers to determine the minimum service levels directly to the BEIS Secretary, whereas the Transport Strikes Bill provided for service levels to be determined via negotiations between employers and unions, at least in the first instance.
If passed into law, the Bill would alter the manner in which industrial action could take place across the specified sectors in Scotland, England and Wales, and would also affect the rights and obligations of unions, employers and employees.