Minimum service level regulations for rail workers, ambulance staff and border security staff will be laid in parliament to mitigate disruption and ensure vital public services continue if strikes are called, the government has announced today (Monday 6 November).
The legislation brings the UK in line with countries like France, Italy, Spain, and the US where public services reliably continue during strikes. The International Labour Organisation also recognises Minimum Service Levels as a sensible solution to protect the public from serious consequences of strikes.
The minimum service levels are designed to be effective and proportionate by balancing the ability to take strike action with ensuring we can keep our borders secure, supporting people to make important journeys including accessing work, education, and healthcare, and allowing people to get the emergency care they need.
Earlier this year, the government consulted widely on proposals to introduce minimum service levels legislation across a range of sectors, under the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act which received Royal Assent in July. The responses to these consultations have been published today with the legislation set to be laid in parliament today November 7.
For train operators, it will mean the equivalent of 40% of their normal timetable can operate as normal and, in the case of strikes that affect rail infrastructure services, certain priority routes can remain open.
Rail strikes have damaged the hospitality sector over the past 18 months, with many operators expressing concen that industrial action could further disrupt Christmas trading.
Figures from UKHospitality suggest the cumulative effects of rail strikes last autumn and winter and earlier this spring cost the industry £3.25b.
Following the continued strikes this autumn, 37 hospitality brands, including Wasabi, Greene King and Rosa’s Thai, signed an open letter in partnership with UKHospitality urging rail unions not to strike during the festive period.
All types of hospitality businesses have been affected by the strikes, from city centre food-to-go to family-run pubs.
Neil Sebba, Managing Director of Tossed, said the ongoing strikes had been ‘extremely debilitating’, as a business that depends on the flow of office workers.
Beds & Bars, which operates pubs, tourist accommodation and entertainment venues, said its sales were down 70%, on average, on strike days. Keith Knowles, its CEO, said its staff were significantly affected in being unable to get to work.
Phil Thorley runs Thorley Taverns, with almost 20 pubs in Kent, and said strikes had ‘decimated’ the number of visitors from London to the Kent coast. He said it had ‘deeply affected’ trade.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:
“We are doing everything in our power to stop unions de-railing Christmas for millions of people. This legislation will ensure more people will be able to travel to see their friends and family and get the emergency care they need.”
“We cannot go on relying on short term fixes – including calling on our Armed Forces or civil servants – to mitigate the disruption caused by strike action.”
“That’s why we’re taking the right long-term decision to bring in minimum service levels, in line with other countries, to keep people safe and continue delivering the vital public services that hard-working people rely on.”
Where minimum service level regulations are in place and strike action is called, employers can issue work notices to identify people who are reasonably required to work to ensure minimum service levels are met.
The law requires unions to take reasonable steps and ensure their members who are identified with a work notice comply and if a union fails to do this, they will lose their legal protection from damages claims.
Last year, we raised the maximum damages that courts can award against a union for unlawful strike action. For the biggest unions, the maximum award has risen from £250,000 to £1 million.
Transport Secretary, Mark Harper said:
For too long, hard working people have been unfairly targeted by rail union leaders – prevented from making important journeys, including getting to work, school or vital hospital appointments.
Minimum Service Levels will help address this by allowing the rail industry to plan ahead to reduce disruption for passengers while ensuring workers can still exercise their ability to strike.
An improved service on strike days will allow passengers to continue with their day-to-day lives and support businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector.
The Department for Business and Trade recently consulted on a new draft statutory Code of Practice on the ‘reasonable steps’ a trade union should take to meet the requirements set out in the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023.
They will also launch a consultation on removing regulation 7 across all sectors which prevents employment businesses supplying agency workers to cover the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in an official strike or other industrial action. These will be published in due course.