Skip to content


Employees in Britain do not enjoy a general legal ‘right’ to strike unless otherwise prohibited by law. Instead, trade unions only have the right to strike in situations whereby statute provides legal protections; in the absence of such provisions, employees may be deemed to be in violation of their employment contract and unions that organise strikes may be held liable. Over two million working days were lost due to industrial action between June and December 2022, over three-quarters (79%) of these days came from workers in transport, storage, information, and communication. Further, over 600,000 medical appointments were rescheduled since December 2022. The Government has sought to implement the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 in order to limit what they contend is the impact this has on the UK economy.

The Act

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 allows the government to set minimum service levels in several key sectors including health, transport, fire and rescue and education. The Act aims to limit the impacts of strike action on the public and to strike a balance between the right of unions and their members with the need for the public to access key services during industrial action.

Minimum Service Levels (MSLs) aim to limit the impacts of strike action on the lives and livelihoods of the public and to strike a balance between the right of unions and their members to strike with the need for the wider public to be able to access key services during strikes. The Act would allow employers to give a ‘work notice’ to a trade union concerning any strike affecting a service subject to minimum service regulations. The work notice would need to specify which workers the employer requires to work to ensure the service levels are met. Where a union fails to ‘take reasonable steps’ to ensure that all workers requested to work comply with such a notice, it will lose its protection from liability for inducing workers to take part during the strike.

Commentary and criticisms

When introducing the Act on 10 January 2023, Business Secretary Grant Shapps said its purpose was to protect public safety and that it would bring the United Kingdom into line with other European countries such as France, German, Italy, and Spain. In a press release accompanying the Bill (now Act) the Government said it intended to first consult on introducing minimum service in the rail services, ambulance, and fire services, adding it hopes to ‘not have to use these powers for other sectors included in the Act’.

Throughout the passage through parliament, the Act had strong opposition from trade unions who criticised is limitations on workers’ rights and how it undermines the fundamental right to strike. The Act amends the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA) to restrict the protection provided to trade unions and employees in respect of strikes where minimum service levels apply.

In light of the upcoming general election, it will be interesting to see to what extent the act is further referred by both parties as well as their broader places for the development of the law in relation to employment law.