What are the Government’s proposals for minimum service levels during strikes?

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The Government’s proposed legislation on minimum service levels during strikes has pitched it into another battle with trade unions, which strongly oppose the plans.

The Bill returns to the Commons on Monday, in the same week that the country will be hit by the biggest day of industrial action in years.

Teachers, train drivers, university lecturers and security guards will all join 100,000 civil servants in walkouts on Wednesday.

Below, the PA news agency addresses the key questions about the new Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill.

– Who sets minimum service levels?

The plans give the Government the power to set minimum service levels for health, fire, education, transport, nuclear decommissioning and border security services.

The legislation does not set out what those minimum service levels should be, or what they should be based on, but gives ministers the power to impose minimums through secondary legislation, which must be approved by Parliament.

Cabinet meeting
Business Secretary Grant Shapps has proposed new laws to require minimum service levels during strikes (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Once the minimum service level has been set, employers will be able to issue a “work notice” to their staff, which will identify the employees required to work during the strike in order to provide that minimum service level.

They will also set out the type of work those members of staff are required to do.

Work notices must be issued at least a week before a strike begins, unless employers and trade unions agree otherwise.

When issuing a work notice, employers must not require more people to work than are “reasonably necessary” and cannot base decisions about who is needed on whether they are members of a trade union or not.

– What happens if a work notice is ignored?

The penalties for ignoring a work notice could be steep, with workers facing the sack and trade unions vulnerable to being sued.

Individual workers are normally protected from being sacked if they take part in strike action, but under the new legislation they would lose that protection if they went on strike despite being identified in a work notice.

Employers would also be able to sue a trade union for some losses arising from strike action if the union failed to take “reasonable steps” to ensure that its members complied with a work notice.

This means that trade unions could be liable for losses caused by strikes, although employers would not be able to claim damages for any loss they would have suffered had union members complied with the work notice.

(PA Graphics)

Trade unions have a limited role in the process for determining minimum service levels.

When setting those levels, the Government is required to consult “such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate”, which is likely to include trade unions, but is not required to secure their agreement.

Downing Street has said that consultation would take place while the Bill is going through Parliament.

Employers are also required to consult trade unions about the number of people and the types of work to be included in a work notice, and to “have regard” to the unions’ views. But they are not required to secure the unions’ agreement.

Industrial strike
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union on the picket line outside New Street station in Birmingham in January (Jacob King/PA)

The Government has said it hopes to pass the Strikes Bill before the end of the year, but the exact timetable remains uncertain.

The Bill is expected to meet significant opposition, especially in the House of Lords, which could delay its passage.

MPs are expected to spend up to six hours considering the remaining stages of the Bill on Monday, with a significant number of amendments tabled for the Bill’s committee stage.

– What opposition is there to the plan?

The TUC is organising nationwide events on February 1 to protest against the Government’s plans.

Unions argue that the planned legislation would lead to workers being sacked even if they had lawfully voted to strike.

They have dubbed it the “anti-strike bill”.

Some legal experts have also expressed concerns about the Bill, with trade unions expected to challenge the legislation in the courts as a breach of the UK’s obligations under international law.

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