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Industrial Action Law and Strikes

Workers have employment rights even while taking part in industrial action and strikes. This section explains how trade unions organise legal industrial action and United Kingdom law for picketing.

Note: A new law will make it easier for businesses to employ staff during strikes and help reduce disruption from workers who are taking strike action.

UK STRIKE LAW: As a rule, industrial action laws protect your statutory employment rights.

That is providing the strikes are in accordance with a properly conducted ballot.

In most cases, the right to strike from work does not usually violate a worker’s legal position of continuous employment.

But, the stop-work revolt must be in line with employment labour laws and industry legislation of the United Kingdom.

Dismissing a ‘protected’ employee for taking part in industrial action and strikes (e.g. an overtime ban) would be grounds for an automatic unfair dismissal claim.

All workers who take part in lawful strikes will receive protection for the first eight (8) weeks. As a rule, this is a period when procedural steps are undertaken to try and resolve the dispute.

Employee protected period would usually get extended beyond eight weeks. It happens most if the employer does not take reasonable steps to solve the industrial walkout.

Types of Industrial Strike Action

A description or definition of taking industrial action and striking would be if:

  • The workers refuse to perform their usual job tasks, ‘down tools’, and go on strike.
  • The workers take other strike action such as refusing to work overtime termed ‘action short of a strike’.

Note: It is not uncommon to see a ‘lock-out’ during this kind of industrial dispute. That means an employer stops their workers from working or coming back to the workplace.

Trade Unions Calling Industrial Action

A recognised trade union can serve notice for their members to join their call for strike action. This movement happens most often if a workplace dispute does not get resolved through reasonable negotiations.

If a trade union calls for industrial action, it must involve the majority of all union members with entitlement to vote. They must organise the voting process through an official ballot. This type of ballot must be a ‘properly’ organised postal vote.

As a rule, the ballot would include all those affected by the workplace dispute. The trade union should inform all their members, and management, the full results of the ballot.

A committee or trade union official (noted in the voting paper) may then decide to call for a striking walkout. The details of when and how should go to all members and the employer.

Workers’ Right when Taking Part in Industrial Action

UK statutory labour laws cover the legal issues for taking part in industrial action and strikes. Thus, your rights as an employee give you the choice whether to take part or not.

All trade union members have the right to vote. The voting process determines how to proceed with industrial action. Workers cannot get disciplined if they vote to abstain from a strike.

Note: You can protest to an employment tribunal if your trade union expel or exclude you from the procedure.

Secondary Strike Action

Going on strike in sympathy with workers who work for a different employer is taking ‘secondary action’. This type of industrial action is against the law in the United Kingdom.

How to Stop Industrial Action

As a citizen, you have the legal right to stop unlawful industrial action if it affects goods or services being provided to you. Your action must take place as a citizen and not be representing a company.

But, the ‘citizen’s right to prevent disruption’ (e.g. rights of citizens for stopping industrial action) would only apply if the workers strike is likely to (either):

  • Prevent (or has already prevented) you from receiving any goods or services that a company produces.
  • Lower (or has already lowered) the quality of goods and services produced by a company.

The Department for BIS produce guidance notes on the citizen’s right to prevent disruption because of industrial action. It explains how to apply to the courts for an injunction.

Making a successful application for a court injunction would order:

  • The trade union to stop organising the industrial action.
  • People who are taking part in the action to cease their strike activities.

Note: It may be necessary to get legal advice to help you apply for a court injunction. A different section explains some of the steps you can take if your business faces industrial action.

Taking Part in Industrial Action: Strike Laws in United Kingdom