Pressure on government to water down the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill was introduced in Parliament at the beginning of the year.
The Bill will allow the Secretary of State to set minimum service levels (MSLs) in a number of different sectors, including health, transport and education. Employers in those sectors will then be able to identify the workers required to work during a strike in order to ensure the MSL.
The relevant trade union will lose its immunity from liability under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 if it fails to take reasonable steps to ensure that all members of the union who have been identified fail to comply with the requirement to work. In these circumstances an employer could potentially get an interim injunction against the union preventing it from calling its members out on strike, and the union could face civil liabilities of up to £1,000,000 for calling unlawful industrial action. Meanwhile employees who are identified in a valid work notice but still take part in the strike action would lose automatic protection from unfair dismissal.
The House of Lords has made several amendments to the Bill at report stage. Key amendments which were voted on and agreed by narrow majorities in the House include that:
- The government cannot specify any minimum services levels until a consultation has taken place and the powers have been scrutinised by a committee of each House of Parliament.
- The dismissal of an employee for a failure to comply with a work notice, or any detriment they are subjected to for the same reason, would not be considered lawful.
- The provisions enabling employers to seek an injunction or damages against a trade union which fails to take reasonable steps to ensure employees comply with work notices would be removed from the Bill.
It is unlikely that the government will accept to the amendments and so it is likely that Royal Assent will be delayed. However, it's worth noting that the impact of this proposed legislation may be minimal as, if it does come into force, Labour has promised to repeal it if it wins the next General Election.