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Update on the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

NHS Doctors and Nurses on strike

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill was introduced by the government on 10 January 2023 by the Transport Secretary, with a backing of 309 votes to 249. It comes during a tumultuous time for public services, with the UK losing more than 1.6 million working days due to strikes.

This law, should it be enacted, will allow the government to set minimum levels of service which must be met during strikes to ensure the safety of the public and their access to public services. The Bill amends the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

Which services will be affected?

The Bill is set to cover the following public services:

  • Health
  • Fire and rescue
  • Education
  • Transport
  • Decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel
  • Border security

In a press release, the government stated that it would consult on minimum service levels for fire, ambulance, and rail services first, and hopes it will not have to use these powers for the other sectors contained within the Bill.

Minimum service levels

Currently there is no limit on the number of employees who can choose to strike at the same time. If the legislation is enacted in its current form, the government would have the power to establish minimum levels of service within the affected sectors, either in agreement with unions or by implementing regulations.

Under the current draft Bill, once the minimum levels have been decided, employers would identify those employees required to continue working to meet those minimum levels. If the employee chose to strike instead of coming to work, any dismissal as a result may not be treated as automatic unfair dismissal.

Next steps for the bill

The government will now need to carry out a consultation to establish the details of the minimum service levels which will need to be maintained. The Bill will go through the committee stage, and it is anticipated that there will be some resistance in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Furthermore, issues involving transport and health are devolved to the Scottish parliament, so there may be some disagreement over the Bill’s application in Scotland.

We can therefore expect it will be some time before this legislation is enacted as an Act of Parliament, and that the final provisions may look somewhat different to the version of the Bill currently proposed.

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