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A year of strikes: what has changed?

Today (21 June) marks one year since the first rail strikes of 2022, which sparked a wave of strikes from nurses, teachers, junior doctors and a number of other professions.

The government has responded to ongoing industrial action with the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which proposes to mandate a minimum level of service during industrial action from public services, with unions being sued if they fail to comply.  

The bill is in its final stages and the consideration of amends will be read today. 

More on industrial action:

Strikes bill amendments voted down by MPs

Over 100 politicians worldwide oppose new UK Strikes Bill

Why does it feel like everyone is going on strike?

United Nations (UN) workers’ rights watchdog the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has criticised the bill and told the UK to bring union laws into line with international law. 

The ILO issued a rare instruction for ministers to “seek technical assistance” from ILO staff and report back on progress in September, the first intervention it has made against the UK since 1995. 

It also called on the government to allow unions to use electronic ballots, rein in the powers of the union regulator and consult more with unions and employers on legislation. 

Paul Nowak, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the intervention is an embarrassment to the government. 

He said: “This is hugely embarrassing for the Conservative government and speaks to the scale of anti-union attacks on their watch. The right to strike is a fundamental freedom.  

“But the Conservatives are attacking it in broad daylight with the draconian strikes bill.” 

Industrial action is set to continue throughout 2023. 

Junior doctors went on strike last week and teachers in England have announced walkouts in July. 

Rachel Suff, senior policy advisor at the CIPD, said the strikes bill is unlikely to calm disputes. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “The strikes bill would allow the government to set minimum levels of service in six sectors, but new legislation is not where the solution lies.  

“Although undoubtedly complex it’s through a commitment to resolve and seek agreement, with negotiation and compromise on all sides, that collective disputes have the best chance of being resolved and further action averted.”  

Suff said many organisations are experiencing extensive employment relations challenges.  

She said: “The cost of living crisis, falling real wages and wider dissatisfaction with working conditions have been a potent recipe for the sustained strike action we have seen in recent months, particularly the public sector.  

“Some disputes have been settled but the negotiations have typically been long and protracted.” 

Suff said HR teams need to prioritise employee relations and conflict management.  

She said: “This industrial action is a sharp reminder of the continued influence of trade unions in key sectors, as well as the need for organisations to build positive employment relations to help avert industrial action. 

“People professionals and line managers also need to have the right skills to enable them to deal with conflict and manage collective relationships with employee representatives.”