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Workers who breach proposed anti-strike law en masse ‘unlikely’ to face sackings

The Government’s proposed legislation on minimum service levels during strikes is unlikely to work because employers will not want to sack their staff over industrial action, legal experts have said.

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

But lawyers from several UK firms have said that employers will have multiple options available for dealing with such workers, and it is unlikely they will want to choose the most “draconian” approach.

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

She said: “Employers who want to send a firm message to a workforce might take the draconian approach and dismiss staff without prior warning.

“However, if all required staff ignore the notice, it is hard to imagine a situation where employers will be able to make numerous dismissals, and this would make the legislation entirely self-defeating.

“There is a skills shortage in many of the sectors covered by this proposed legislation, so dismissing staff will only exacerbate this issue.”

Industrial strike
Unison general secretary Christina McAnea with ambulance workers taking 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 include the NHS, to recruit.

“Nobody will want to be in a job that they can effectively be forced to perform against their will when they want to 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 this “is likely to be tested” if the legislation passes.

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

She said: “It’s unlikely that employers affected by the new laws will want to lose staff who strike when they’re not supposed to.

“It’s very possible they will end up turning a blind eye to employees who choose to ignore a ‘work notice’ even if it would constitute a sackable offence under the changes.

“As to whether the Government really has the power to sack workers if they refuse to comply en masse – legally, yes, but practically, it would make no sense and be entirely counter-productive to do so.”

Gita Patel, an employment solicitor at SA Law, highlighted how employers who want to fire staff for breaching a “work notice” would have to give them “a full and fair disciplinary” first.

She added that dismissing a whole group of employees is “likely to have adverse effects on the organisation in the long term”.

Cabinet meeting
Health Secretary Steve Barclay (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

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

Asked for a third time about how the law would be implemented, he said: “We’re going to debate this.

“It will probably take about six months for the legislation to pass and this will be scrutinised, we will debate this in Parliament.

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

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill was introduced by Business Secretary Grant Shapps on Tuesday.