Industrial Action: Is There a Right to Strike?

Photo Credits - Miltiadis Fragkidis via Unsplash

The rising inflation and cost of living have caused many organisations to call for industrial action in the post-pandemic times. This winter, we have seen many reports of ongoing and upcoming strikes happening across the UK. Workers of the NHS, RMT, civil service and Royal Mail are either currently striking or have plans to do so within the month.

Labour disputes have been happening across the UK throughout this year. The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in June 2022 that there were 70,500 working days lost and 87,600 in July 2022. These numbers are larger than the numbers of 2019, showing a growing amount of labour disputes this year.

Although the rail strikes in June 2022 affected many, it was reported by Savanta that 58% of UK adults justified the strikes. Even with the current economic state, there are many people in the UK supporting strikes. With the various strike action planned this winter, you might be asking – is there a right to strike?

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Industrial Action and Strikes

A call for industrial action usually happens when trade union members are conflicting with their employers. Typically, these disputes have had negotiations done to address them but are still unsolvable. This can only be done with the support of the majority of members, which is shown through a ballot.

Industrial action is then done by workers in the form of strikes or ‘actions short of a strike’ – such as refusing to do overtime. There are instances of a ‘lock-out’, which is when employers stop their workers from working or coming back to work with an ongoing dispute.

Is There a Right to Strike?

Although there is no legal right to strike, striking is legal in the UK – so long as it has been properly organised by a trade union with the right conditions laid out in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, which includes a lawful ballot beforehand. Legally, it is noted by the UK government that workers who will take industrial action cannot be forced to stay or go back to work.

However, workers who take industrial action are likely in breach of their employment contract. Their employers are then unlikely to pay them for the time they took for industrial action, and in rare instances can also sue for breach of contract.

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Workers cannot be dismissed for industrial action if:

  • There was a proper ballot organised
  • The industrial action was for a trade dispute between workers and their employer
  • A detailed notice was given to the employer at least 7 days prior

Workers can be dismissed for industrial action if:

  • There has not been a proper ballot
  • The employer has not been given the correct notice
  • The action was called by someone without the authorisation
  • It is a ‘sympathy’ or ‘secondary’ action – taking action against other employers
  • It is only in support of union members or a ‘closed shop’
  • It breaks any parts of industrial action law


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