The Strikes (Minimum Services Levels) Act 2023 (the Act) allows the Secretary of State to set MSLs in six 'relevant services', including education. The aim of the legislation is to safeguard essential public services during strikes by setting minimum levels of service which must be maintained during strike action. Under the Act, employers will be able to serve 'work notices' on unions before strike action. A work notice will identify people who are required to work during the strike in order to deliver the defined MSL. Unions must take reasonable steps to ensure that members identified in the work notice comply with the notice. Both union and individual protection for inducing and participating in strike action risks being lost if the union fails to take these reasonable steps.
Earlier this year, the Government said it would only impose MSLs within the education sector if it was not possible to reach voluntary agreements with unions. The Government has now confirmed it has written to unions to propose reaching a voluntary agreement on MSLs. The Government has also confirmed that if it is not possible reach a voluntary agreement, it will consult on MSLs with a view to imposing them using its powers under the Act.
The Government is yet to definitively confirm whether independent schools will be excluded from the scope of the Act. When the Act was first introduced as a Bill, it was observed that the six sectors where MSLs would be set, broadly align with the 'important public services' sectors as defined by the Trade Union Act 2016, and in respect of which enhanced balloting thresholds apply. Independent schools fall outside the definition of 'important public services' under the TU Act, so the MSL framework may also exclude fee-paying schools in the same way. We expect this to be clarified by the Government as union discussions progress.