In what circumstances are we permitted to go on strike?

A strike is a form of industrial action. Although each employee will be in breach of their contract of employment, the union and its officials calling the strike will be protected against legal action, provided the strike (or other form of industrial action) has been called in accordance with the law.

This legislation sets out many detailed requirements including that:

  • the action must be in relation to a work dispute (this would rule out, for example, action for political reasons);
  • the dispute must be with your own employer (this makes it difficult to plan industrial action in industries where groups of workers, although working alongside each other, have different employers, for example as a result of outsourcing or the use of facilities management companies to provide some services);
  • a secret postal ballot must have been held, following detailed rules, including rules as to exactly what words must appear on the ballot paper;
  • a majority of those balloted must have returned their ballot papers (meaning that ‘not voting’ is a vote against the strike);
  • there must be a majority in favour of the action. However ;in some sectors, which the government terms ‘important public services’, it is not enough that a majority of those voting are in favour. In addition, 40% of those who were eligible to vote in the strike must have voted in favour. This higher threshold affects strikes in the health service, education of under-17s, fire services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning and border security. (The position in Wales is different, because the Welsh Assembly has refused to apply the 40% threshold to devolved public services in Wales – the NHS, education, local government and the fire service).
  • the ballot must have been independently scrutinised (if more than 50 people are involved); and
  • notice must have been given of the industrial action.
Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.

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