Workers flouting proposed anti-strike law en masse “unlikely” to be sacked

The government’s proposed legislation on minimum service levels during strikes is unlikely to work as employers don’t want to fire their workers for industrial action, legal experts say.

Under the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, bosses could legally fire employees who ignore a “work notice” requiring them to work on strike days.

But lawyers for several UK law firms have said employers will have several options to deal with such workers and are unlikely to want to take the most “draconian” approach.

Skill shortages exist in many of the sectors covered by this proposed law, so laying off employees will only exacerbate this problemDanielle Parsons, Employment Specialist at Irwin Mitchell

Danielle Parsons, an employment partner at Irwin Mitchell, said bosses may issue written warnings or other forms of disciplinary action.

She said: “Employers who want to send a clear message to a workforce could take the draconian approach and fire employees without warning.

“However, if all required staff ignore the termination, it is difficult to imagine employers being able to make numerous layoffs and that would make the legislation completely self-defeating.

“Many of the sectors covered by this proposed legislation are experiencing skills shortages, so laying off employees will only exacerbate this problem.”


General Secretary Christina McAnea in unison with ambulance workers conducting industrial action on Wednesday (Danny Lawson/PA)

Ms Parsons said the legislation could also “drive workers out of their jobs” and make it even harder for sectors affected by the legislation, which includes the NHS, to hire.

“No one is going to want a job that they can effectively do against their will if they want to go on strike,” she said.

Ms Parsons added that the right to strike is protected by Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the government’s belief that the new law is compatible with it “is likely to be put to the test” if the law is passed.

Melanie Stancliffe, an employment law specialist at Cripps, said employers could “turn a blind eye” to violations of the new law.

It is highly likely that they will end up turning a blind eye to employees who choose to ignore a “work notice” even if, after the changes, doing so would constitute a criminal offenseMelanie Stancliffe, employment law specialist at Cripps

She said: “Employers hit by the new laws are unlikely to want to lose staff who are going on strike when they shouldn’t.

“It is very likely that they will end up turning a blind eye to employees who choose to ignore a ‘work notification’, even if under the changes it would constitute a criminal offense.

“The question of whether the government really has the power to fire workers if they refuse en masse – legally yes, but practically it would make no sense and would be totally counterproductive to do so.”

Gita Patel, an employment attorney at SA Law, stressed that employers who want to fire employees for violating a “work notice” must first give them “a full and fair disciplinary measure.”

She added that laying off an entire group of employees “is likely to have a long-term adverse impact on the organization.”


Health Secretary Steve Barclay (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Health Secretary Steve Barclay declined to answer directly questions about what would happen if workers ignored strike laws during an interview with Sky News on Wednesday.

When asked a third time how the law would be implemented, he said: “We will discuss it.

“It will probably take around six months for the law to be passed and this is being considered, we will be debating this in Parliament.

“It’s more about the behavior of the unions than the individual members.”

The strike law (minimum service levels) was introduced on Tuesday by Business Secretary Grant Shapps. Workers flouting proposed anti-strike law en masse “unlikely” to be sacked

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