Laws passed to reduce strike disruption and protect public services

New laws to reduce the impact of industrial action on rail, border security and ambulance services while balancing the ability of workers to strike

  • minimum service level laws to come into force for rail, border security and ambulance services to mitigate disruption if strikes are called
  • delivers on manifesto commitment to introduce minimum service levels for rail strikes
  • government also consulting on plans to introduce minimum service levels to cover children’s education

The government is taking strides towards ensuring key services remain accessible during strikes, as the first minimum service levels (MSL) regulations came into force from today (8 December 2023). Following Parliamentary approval, the regulations are set to apply in the rail sector and border security and ambulance services. 

For the rail sector, MSLs will provide an additional tool for train operators to reduce the impact of strike action, meaning that rail operators can aim to run 40% of their normal timetable during any strike.

For a strike affecting infrastructure services, certain key routes will also be able to stay open and for longer than is normally the case during strikes.

MSLs are already in force in countries such as France, Spain and the US, and the new UK regulations have been carefully designed to help reduce the impact of industrial action by balancing the ability of workers to strike and the rights of the public to get to work and access key services.

The statutory code of practice has also come into force, which sets out the reasonable steps trade unions should take to ensure their members comply with work notices and help ensure minimum service levels are met, following a public consultation. Where MSL regulations are in place and strike action is called, employers can issue work notices to identify people who are reasonably required to work to ensure MSLs are met. 

The law requires unions to take reasonable steps and ensure their members who are identified with a work notice comply and if a union fails to do this, they will lose their legal protection from damages claims. Last year, we raised the maximum damages that courts can award against a union for unlawful strike action. For the biggest unions, the maximum award has risen from £250,000 to £1 million.

Rail Minister, Huw Merriman, said:

"Strikes cause stress and disruption to passengers and businesses and, while there is no silver bullet to mitigating the disruption from strikes, these regulations deliver a manifesto promise and will enable employers to reduce the impact from strikes.

"As the government, we have a duty to ensure the public can access key services and, while it is important workers maintain their ability to strike, this must not come at the cost of people getting to work, accessing healthcare or education."

Strikes have had significant impact across industries and the economy. To date, over 1.1 million appointments have been rescheduled by acute NHS Trusts due to strike action since December 2022. And since 2019, there has not been a single day without either a strike happening on the railways or mandates for strikes outstanding. 

This is why the government is delivering on its 2019 manifesto commitment through these MSL regulations to help protect the public from unnecessary disruption.

The government will continue to work with industry, and today the Department for Transport published non-statutory guidance for train operators on how to implement the regulations. This supplements existing non-statutory guidance for employers, trade unions and workers on the issuing of work notices.

The government has also launched a consultation on introducing MSLs to cover children’s education. The planned measures will provide greater reassurance and certainty for children and parents.

Department for Transport
Department for Education
Department for Business and Trade
Huw Merriman MP