Strike Action – Employers Could Sue Unions if New Bill Passes
It is impossible to read or listen to the news at the moment without a reference to strike action and the impact this is having on the country and the steps the Government is (or isn’t taking) to address them.
A number of workers across a variety of sectors have made the decision to strike in the hope of attaining better pay and conditions with the support of their Unions.
Rather than considering ways to address the imbalance in pay and conditions in these sectors, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has now introduced in Parliament the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. The proposed legislation would entitle employers to sue unions if they do not provide minimum levels of service for key sectors. These sectors include the NHS, Transport, Education, Fire and Rescue, Border security, and Nuclear decommissioning. The government has confirmed they will consult with the specific employers on what constitutes “minimum level of staff” but this at the moment is unknown.
What does this mean?
At the moment, a legal strike can only happen if a majority of union members agree to the strike action – known as a ballot. If agreed, details of the strike must be provided to the employer 14 days (or 7 days if agreed) before it so an employer has notice and can make arrangements if necessary.
At the moment, employees cannot be dismissed during the first 12 weeks of industrial action. If they are, they will have a claim for unfair dismissal.
If the Bill is passed then the employer will be able to determine who should continue to work during the strike to ensure the minimum service levels are met. Unions have reported that if passed they will challenge this. Importantly, they also state that it will not address the key issue of the strikes.
With key sectors evidently understaffed and under immense pressure to provide services at all times (not just during strike action), I agree. Addressing the issues of pay and other conditions is vital in driving recruitment and retaining employees in these sectors. This is particularly evident with the NHS and the immense pressure nursing staff are under. It has been reported that there are almost 47,000 nursing vacancies in health and care settings in England and Wales in June 2022. Having been under the care of several fantastic nurses in the past, I absolutely agree that this is a vital service which requires our attention and care to ensure it endures for years to come, and I absolutely agree that they should have better terms and conditions.