Last reviewed 16 June 2022
Following a vote, members of the RMT union will go on strike on 21, 23 and 25 June. Disruption is also expected on non-strike days because of too few staff working overnight. A special timetable from 20–26 June will be in effect. The RMT union includes drivers, guards, catering staff, signallers and track maintenance workers, and the action will effectively shut down the national railway network. It is anticipated that the service across Great Britain will be reduced to a fifth of its normal levels.
The strikes are happening as a result of disputes over pay, conditions and planned job cuts, and unless agreement can be reached between now and then, many employees will be affected by this, with those reliant on train travel unlikely to be able to travel to work. This could lead to productivity and service concerns.
What if employees are unable to travel to work?
For those unlikely or unable to get to work as a result of the strike action, organisations can speak to these employees and discuss whether alternative arrangements can be made for the working day. It may be that these employees already work in a hybrid way and can simply change their days at home for the planned strike days. Alternatively, they could:
work from home — many employees may already be able to do this due to working from home during the pandemic
agree a period of annual leave
enforce annual leave
agree to use any banked time off in lieu.
Organisations who wish to enforce annual leave have to give the correct notice: twice the length of the annual leave to be enforced, eg two days’ notice to enforce one day of annual leave. As such, employers looking to go down this route will need to plan the timing of forced annual leave and ensure correct notice is given. Employers looking to do this for the strikes later in June need to therefore act quickly.
Alternatively, organisations may wish to arrange a temporary period of flexible working with staff to start or finish outside normal working hours as their commutes are likely to be adversely affected by an amended transport timetable.
Where the above options are utilised, the employee is entitled to be paid as normal as they will be able to perform their contacted hours or use authorised leave.
What options do organisations have for employees who are late due to the strikes?
Employees who are lucky enough to commute on a trainline which is not closed completely will be competing with other travellers for space on severely reduced timetables. Staff who drive to work or use other forms of public transport could experience knock-on impacts of there being no trains. Roads will likely be busier than usual, as will bus/tram/taxi companies. Employees should be encouraged to make appropriate allowances to make sure they get to work on time, eg leave earlier/plan to get a bus, etc. Reasonable leniency should be allowed for staff who are late to work due to the travel disruptions.
There is an element of choice for organisations in how they wish to tackle this matter. In the very unusual circumstance that there is a contractual right to be paid for lateness, employees who are late because of the strike action are entitled to be paid for any time they miss. Otherwise, they are not.
Some employers operate a system of “rounding up” in the case of employee lateness, whereby, for example, they only pay on the half hour, so an employee who is 10 minutes late for a two o’clock shift will not get paid until 2.30pm. This can impact on an employee’s morale, especially where the lateness is not their fault. It can also be an unlawful deduction of wages, as the employee is not being paid for all of the time that they work. If the employee is paid close to or exactly national minimum wage (NMW), this would also cause their pay to dip below and the employer would be in breach of NMW rules. Clauses of this nature are known as “penalty clauses” and are not enforceable in an employment law context.
Organisations may instead agree with employees that they can work the time back, either on the same day or at a later date, to ensure employees are not losing out on pay. If the employee is agreeable to this, it may be the best solution. Other possible solutions could be to arrange a temporary period of flexible working so the employee can start/finish outside of normal hours, as this might make it easier for them to access other forms of transport. Employees could also look at car-pooling arrangements.
Employers may also decide to treat these absences differently to other types of lateness, as they are not the fault of the employee, and the employee may not have other options such as driving or arriving at a different time (for example, if they need drop children at school or childcare). They can disregard the lateness but, if they do so, this should apply consistently to all employees who are similarly affected and may set an expectation that similar strikes will be treated in the same manner.
What happens if employees’ childcare arrangements are affected?
It may be that strike action causes schools and childcare settings to close, or limit their capacity, due to staffing or other issues. In these circumstances, employees have a statutory right to take unpaid time off for dependants to cover the time needed to put in place other arrangements. In most cases, leave of one or two days is sufficient, but this will depend on the circumstances of each employee. If this is anticipated to be a problem, discussing the matter sooner rather than later can prompt the employee to source alternative care or make other arrangements for their work.
The impending strike action may well cause employees mental, physical or financial distress, especially as the cost-of-living crisis continues. Organisations are therefore encouraged to act reasonably with their staff, as the situation may cause upset and tensions to grow within the workforce. Any additional assistance that can be offered, such as temporary loans of equipment or even money, access to an Employee Assistance Programme, or signposting external mental health or financial support, will help employees’ overall wellbeing and, in turn, preserve, as much as is possible, productivity and commitment to the organisation. Employers should think carefully before taking any disciplinary action for absence or lateness caused by the rail strikes. A full process should be followed in line with normal rules, but reasonable flexibility should be afforded since it is not their fault. Staff who are obviously late for other reasons (eg slept-in, etc) can be managed as usual.