Public sector unions are planning a national day of strike action in November in response to government reform of pensions. Meanwhile, local disputes surrounding pay and job cuts are continuing throughout the UK. Here is an at-a-glance guide for social workers considering industrial action.
1 What are the main types of industrial action?
The most common form is official action, which is authorised by a trade union. Those taking part are protected from dismissal and victimisation as long as a formal ballot takes place and the employer has been given seven days’ notice. Ballots can give members the option to strike or take industrial action short of a strike. The latter can include a ban on overtime and/or working to rule and refusing to carry out work previously handled as a gesture of goodwill. The other form of action is unofficial or wildcat strikes, where those taking part do not have the same protection.
2 What are your rights?
The right to strike is enshrined at European Union level in the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Article 28 of the charter states that, in cases of conflicts of interest, workers have the right “to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action”.
However, an employer can withhold pay and pension contributions for each day of strike action. Striking does not affect any continuous service clauses in a contract or maternity pay for those on maternity leave.
3 What financial support is available?
Unions can offer strike pay, but this is limited and designed to support those during lengthy industrial action. Unison, for example, offers £15 a day, but only if the strike action lasts for more than four days. In certain circumstances, local union branches can make hardship payments to members, provided that they have an industrial action fund. Branches can transfer up to 5% of their estimated annual income into the fund, according to Unison’s industrial action handbook.
4 What can you do while on strike?
For most one-day strikes, a rally will be held locally. You can also picket your workplace. The government’s code of practice on picketing urges pickets to be kept to six people or less at any entrance. There is no legal right to picket, but peaceful picketing has long been recognised as a lawful activity. Rachael Maskell, national officer at Unite, urges those practitioners who are reluctant to strike to show their support in other ways, for example by lobbying their local MP over the issue.
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