If we need to wash down the coronation quiche consumed at the weekend then, unfortunately, we may have to do it with a dose of reality as we prepare for continued strike action in the coming months.
You may remember the Strikes (Minimum Services Levels) Bill introduced on 10 January 2023 (see our earlier blog). The Government promoted the Bill as a necessary way of ensuring that basic services were provided in vital sectors during a time of strike but decreed by many as an undemocratic fetter on the right to strike. It would appear that many members of the House of Lords agree with the latter.
Last week, four key amendments (all opposed by the Government) were agreed by the House of Lords. The amendments, referred to by some as 'wrecking amendments' potentially leave the Bill 'without teeth'. They are as follows:
- Only after consultation and scrutinisation by both the Houses of Commons and Lords will the Government be able to specify any minimum service levels;
- An employee who fails to comply with a work notice i.e. the requirement to work during a lawful strike so as to ensure compliance with a minimum service limit, could not be lawfully dismissed or suffer any other detriment;
- Neither could damages or an injunction be sought against a trade union that failed to take reasonable steps to ensure employees comply with work notices; and
- The Bill is limited to England only.
These amendments effectively mean that an employer has no recourse against individual employees or trade unions if they fail to provide minimum service levels during a strike (as specified in a work notice). Without such recourse, what reason do unions have to adhere to the prescribed minimum service levels?
Will the amendments stand?
The Bill will return to the House of Commons when the second report stage in the Lords is completed. The amendments will not be popular amongst the Conservative majority of the House of Commons and as such the journey to it receiving Royal Assent will be delayed and rocky. Which will come first, the General Election or the passing of this Bill? Maybe one for Ladbroke’s to make some money on!
As we noted in our original blog, the Bill still only addresses certain sectors. While health is covered, it is still not clear the extent of that definition and whether social care could be included. That said, even if the Bill does not affect your sector directly, continuing strike action will continue to affect your employees’ ability to work be that with travel or teacher strike action as two examples.
Please contact any member of our team should you need advice on dealing with such situations. My colleague Katherine Sinclair wrote about strike action in schools, whilst it is aimed at the education sector, do take a look as it has some useful advice on addressing more general queries on staff absence due to strike action.