This year, strike action has come back into focus as a way for workers to band together and demand better terms of employment.
So far, we have seen rail and postal employees striking over issues with pay, working conditions and pensions – and many other industries are considering following suit, including university and healthcare staff. You may well be considering voting on or participating in a strike yourself, but before you do, here’s what you need to know.
A strike is only ‘legitimate’ if it is organised by a trade union
You only have legal protection to go on strike if it has been organised through the official channels. This means that it needs to have been arranged by a recognised Union, as the result of a members’ ballot. There are also rules stating that the ballot is only valid if at least 50 percent of a union’s members turn out to vote, and that employers need to be given 14 days notice before a strike takes place.
Unofficial strikes started up by workers without the support of a union are known as ‘wildcat’ strikes. They’re not illegal, but they’re also not protected by the law. In practice, this means that people taking part in legitimate strikes are protected from being fired, but people carrying out wildcat strikes are not.
You have a right to join in with official strike action even if you are not part of the union
A common misconception is that only people who belong to the Union calling the strike can take part in action. This is not true – according to the government website, which states “If non-union members go on strike, they are protected from dismissal and have the same rights as union members, as long as the industrial action is lawful.”
Your employer does not have to pay you while you are on strike
Strike action may be protected by law, but it still puts you in breach of the terms and conditions of your employment. So, although your employer is not allowed to dismiss you because of strike action, they’re also under no obligation to pay you for any time that you’re not working. In most cases, employers do not pay workers who have chosen to go on strike. This is an important consideration to make when deciding whether to go on strike or not, as it may have ramifications on your regular finances. Of course, if you are taking action in order to get better pay, the hope would be that the future pay increase would cancel out any lost wages.
Who can join a trade union?
The law states that any worker can join a trade union, although there are certain professions – prison guards and police officers – that are prohibited from going on strike. There are lots of different unions available depending on where you work and what your role is, and it’s also possible to join Unite, a general union that represents employees from any industry. You may have union representatives at your workplace who can help you join, and if not a simple search online should bring up a range of options. As mentioned above, you don’t have to be part of the union to join in any strike action – but it helps ensure you have your say about conditions in your industry.