Strike: Industrial Action Meaning & Examples

Caragh Bailey
6 min read
Strike: Industrial Action Meaning & Examples from Employment Law Friend

What causes industrial action?

Big companies have a lot of power. Even more so in a job market where there are many qualified workers and a limited number of jobs. As an employee it can seem as though you have little to no power over the terms of your employment and that if you don't like them, you're disposable and replaceable.

However, trade unions were created to organise workers, to give us power in numbers, so that our negotiations have to be taken seriously.

Unions should try and get the changes they want through collective bargaining negotiations first. Industrial action is a strike or 'action short of a strike' organised by trade unions to pressure employers or government to improve working conditions when negotiations have been ineffective.

Terms of employment that are often settled using industrial action include pay, overtime, pensions and paid leave.

Employers can stop work or stop you coming back to work during a dispute with the union. This is called a 'lock-out'.

What is the difference between strike and industrial action?

Strike action is when a trade union decides that all, or a group of, its members will refuse to work. There may also be a picket line. This is where the people on strike gather in protest outside their place of work. They might encourage the people going into work to strike, or to take some other action, such as only some of their work, or do their work as slowly as possible ('go slow industrial action'). They might just be there to raise awareness of the issue in dispute.

Industrial action is the term for all the actions a union might take, including strike action and picketing as well as 'action short of a strike' which covers lots of things, we'll give some examples below

What are the types of industrial action?

  • Strike
  • Picket line
  • Go slow industrial action
  • Refusing to work overtime
  • Work-to-rule (workers do only their minimum requirements under the terms on their contract)

Is industrial action legal?

If enough of the members of the union vote to take the proposed action then it can go ahead, as long as the proper laws and regulations are followed, such as:
  • The vote or 'ballot' was properly conducted, including naming the trade union official or committee who will be responsible for announcing the action.
  • The results of the ballot have been shared with all those entitled to vote and with the employer
  • The trade union official or committee named in the ballot must call the action by telling the members and the employer, at least seven days before the action begins.

You can choose whether to take part. If you are a member, your union cannot throw you out for not taking part in the industrial strike. If you are not a union member, but the strike action affects you and your employer, you can take part in legal, official action if you want to, you will be treated the same as a union member on strike.

If you've been excluded or expelled from your trade union because you did not take part, our employment solicitors can help you make a claim to the employment tribunal.

What is unlawful industrial action?

During a strike you can be forced to go back to work if some part of the law has been broken, such as:

  • The ballot was not properly organised
  • The union hasn't given the proper amount of notice for balloting members or taking action
  • The union hasn't called its members to action because it thinks the matter is settled
  • The person who called the action did not have authority to do so
  • The action is in support of employees taking action against another employer, not yours ('secondary action')
  • The action is in support of the employer only employing union members ('closed shop')

Can you be sacked for industrial action?

For twelve weeks following the strike action or action short of a strike, you cannot be sacked for taking part as long as:
  • The ballot was properly organised
  • It's about a dispute over the terms of your employment
  • Your employer was given at least 7 days detailed notice

If you're fired for taking part because regulations were broken, you may still be able to make a claim for unfair dismissal. However, if all of the employees who took part are dismissed, you probably can't.

If you've been fired for taking part, our employment solicitors can help.

Do workers get paid when on strike?

No. While you are on strike you are in breach of contract. Your employer can pay you if they choose to but they are under no obligation to pay you at all.

Your continuous employment is unbroken, but any days that you are on strike do not count towards your length of service, which may affect your pension or statutory redundancy pay.

Have you been penalised for taking part in Industrial Action?

There is much more to winning your case than simply being in the right, our specialist employment solicitors know all the laws and tactics, to make sure you get the best chance at a fair settlement. Get in contact with us and see how we can help.

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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