Minimum Service Levels Update – Major change to UK trade union law

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Under the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023, which received Royal Assent on 20 July 2023, the Secretary of State has the power to set Minimum Service Levels (MSLs) for “relevant services” in the fields of health, transport, education, fire and rescue, border control, and nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste management services.

We previously wrote about the detailed rules involved during industrial action and how the introduction of MSLs is a major change to UK trade union law.

The Government announced on 6 November 2023, that regulations setting out MSLs will be laid before Parliament for debate with the intention of specifically limiting the potential disruption of rail, ambulance service and border security services over the Christmas period.

Earlier this year, the Government conducted three consultations regarding MSLs for rail, ambulance and border security services. On Monday 6 November 2023, the Government set out it’s responses to these three consultations which set out the following MSLs which will apply across Great Britain:

  • Rail – 40% of train services to operate on a strike day.
  • Ambulance – Approximately 80% of ambulance services will continue during the strike to ensure that life-threatening cases are responded to.
  • Border Force – Approximately 70-75% of border force staffing will operate to ensure that all ports and airports can operate as if a strike were not taking place.

Employers in these fields will need to know how to react when faced with employees wishing to take part in strike action.

Under the new legislation, employers can issue Work Notices to unions, identifying who will be required to work during the industrial action. Once a Work Notice has been given to a trade union, in order to maintain protection from certain liabilities in tort, the union must take reasonable steps to ensure that all of its members who are identified within the work notice comply with the notice.

Union Anger

Unions are concerned that the introduction of MSLs will impede on workers fundamental ability to strike. The TUC has already announced a “once in a generation” special Congress to discuss the next stage of campaigning against anti-strike laws.

The unions have already experienced success in preventing new anti-strike laws. As earlier this year, new regulations which permitted employers to use agency workers to replace those on strike, was found to be unlawful and so was quashed.

Organisations will have to closely monitor developments in this area as new laws are introduced or potentially repealed.

We suggest that employers should be planning how they resource any strike days over the Christmas period and initiating consulting as soon as any strikes are announced to manage any employee concerns.

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