What will new Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill mean for the rail sector?

Transport Committee launches inquiry

10 Feb 2023| News

The Transport Committee yesterday launched a new inquiry into how the Government’s proposed Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill would apply in practice to the rail sector, for both public and freight.

The Bill is working its way through Parliament. If passed, it would allow the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out the minimum service required for rail during industrial action. Unions and workers would have to comply with these, or face losing protections against being sued or dismissed.

The Bill is controversial, attracting strong opinions both for and against. The Transport Committee does not seek to take a side on the principle of the Bill, but rather to examine the practical details.

The inquiry’s terms of reference are included below in full.

Chair’s comment

Transport Committee Chair Iain Stewart MP said:

“The Government’s announcement that it will introduce minimum service levels legislation raises many questions about how it will operate in practice for the rail sector.

We will seek to understand what a minimum service might mean for different lines operated by different companies. How many services per day would routes between busy commuter hubs expect to see, and would stations in isolated areas get any trains at all?

How will rail companies decide which workers are needed and which aren’t, who can strike and who can’t? And what impact will running a reduced service on strike days have on timetabling, given we know that ripples of disruption continue into the morning after a strike if trains are in the wrong places.

The Government has also argued that minimum service requirements are common in other countries, so this Committee will look at what can be learnt from looking abroad.

These are just a few of the questions the Transport Committee will put to key organisations in the sector as we scrutinise this forthcoming legislation.”

Call for evidence

The Transport Committee would like to receive written evidence that addresses the following points. Submissions can be sent to the Committee via their website until Thursday 9 March.

  • How a minimum service level on the rail network could be defined and the factors that should be taken into account, including whether it would be set with reference to proportion of the timetable, service frequency, network coverage, key routes or other benchmarks;
  • What process should be followed to arrive at a defined minimum service level, including the roles of unions, train operating companies and Network Rail, and how and when it should be reviewed; and how the availability of alternative transport modes should be taken into account;
  • How the views of rail passengers, workers and freight customers and the needs of public services and the wider economy should be taken into account and, where necessary, prioritised?
  • What level of detail is required in the specification of a minimum service level, and what room for flexibility in applying it is needed;
  • What obligations would be placed on operators to provide minimum service levels, and by what mechanism;
  • How employers would determine the number and nature of staff required to operate a minimum service, and how different staff roles will be affected by the definition of minimum service levels;
  • What specific considerations apply to defining minimum service levels for rail freight, and how this affects the network as a whole;
  • How operators currently assess how services can be provided on days of industrial action or other disruption, and how this would compare to a minimum service level set in regulations;
  • What comparisons can be made with and lessons learned from other countries with minimum service level provisions for rail services; and
  • What unintended consequences could arise from the introduction of minimum service levels in rail.