Industrial action

What is industrial action?

Industrial action can include strike action (which is any concerted stoppage of work) or action short of strike action such as ‘go-slows’ or ‘working to rule’.

Is it against the law to strike?

Although there is no positive legal right to strike in the UK, strike action organised by a trade union is legal provided some tough conditions are met.

For example:

  • The union must have conducted a lawful ballot of all the members it believes will be called upon to take part.
  • The action must be over a trade dispute between workers and their employer over an issue like terms or conditions of employment and as defined in s.244 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.
  • The general secretary or someone else authorised by the union’s rules, must authorise any industrial action.
  • The person named on the ballow paper must make a call for action before industrial action can take place.
  • There are very strict rules about the ballot and the notice that must be given to the employer about the action.


Industrial action is a last resort. UNISON always tries to negotiate and bargain for its members before pursuing industrial action.

Picket lines

A picket line is when members meet at the workplace to increase awareness and support for their cause. Picketing members may also tell other workers about the problem in the workplace.

During a picket line you are allowed to persuade workers, including substitute workers and delivery people, to stop interacting with the business. This must be done peacefully, as criminal law still applies to picket lines.

You aren’t allowed to use threatening behaviour or force to prevent others from attending work, cause criminal damage, or prevent police officers from carrying out their duties.

The police, in Great Britain, can use special powers, such as obtaining an order prohibiting the picket, if the picket contains more than 20 people and they believe it may result in serious disruption to the life of the community.

Dismissal for taking part in industrial action

It is automatically unfair to dismiss someone who’s taken part in any lawful industrial action within 12 weeks of the action.

Can an employer deduct your wages for taking part in industrial action?

Yes, although an employer cannot deduct more than one fifth of weekly pay for a day’s strike action.

Key facts
  • Industrial action occurs when members of a trade union organise into a group that either refuses to work, or refuses to work in the way employers want.
  • You should only take industrial action with the support of UNISON.
  • Industrial action can involve a strike or action short of a strike.
  • You must remain within the law while picketing.


Industrial action