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This table provides a simplified overview of minimum service levels in essential services[i] across 35 European countries based on available information.

Right to strike Is there provision for a minimum service level? How is minimum service set? If negotiated agreement fails then….
Albania Constitutional right Yes Agreement Arbitration
Austria no specific right No
Belgium Interpreted from European Social Charter Yes Legislation/Agreement[ii]
Bulgaria Constitutional right Yes Agreement Arbitration
Croatia Constitutional right Yes Agreement Arbitration
Cyprus Constitutional right Yes Agreement
Czechia Constitutional right No Trade union in practice[iii]
Denmark no specific right No Compulsory arbitration[iv]
Estonia Constitutional right Yes Agreement Arbitration
Finland Interpreted No[v]
France Constitutional right Yes Legislation/Government
Germany Constitutional right Yes Agreement Court
Greece Constitutional right Yes Agreement Arbitration
Hungary Constitutional right Yes Legislation/agreement Court
Iceland Interpreted Yes Agreement Arbitration
Ireland no specific right No Agreement[vi] Independent Body
Italy Constitutional right Yes Agreement Independent Body
Latvia Constitutional right Yes Agreement Independent Body[vii]
Lithuania Constitutional right Yes Agreement Independent Body
Luxembourg Interpreted No[viii]
Malta No specific right Yes Legislation/agreement Independent Body
Montenegro Constitutional right Yes Agreement Independent Body
Netherlands Interpreted Yes Not legislated
North Macedonia Constitutional right Yes Legislation/agreement Arbitration
Norway Interpreted No Agreement[ix] Arbitration
Poland Constitutional right No
Portugal Constitutional right Yes Agreement Arbitration
Romania Constitutional right Yes Legislation
Serbia Constitutional right Yes Employer
Slovakia Constitutional right Yes Agreement
Slovenia Constitutional right Yes Legislation/agreement
Spain Constitutional right Yes Government
Sweden Constitutional right Yes Agreement Independent Body
Switzerland Constitutional right No
UK no specific right Not currently legislated

Key

Constitutional right Indicates that the ‘right to strike’ is explicitly recognised in the national constitution.
Interpreted Indicates that the ‘right to strike’ has been interpreted from the right to freedom of association and right to peaceful assembly in national constitutional texts.
No specific right The right to strike has not been stated or interpreted from a national constitutional text.

Please note, all countries examined are part of the Council of Europe and signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. Case law of the European Court of Human Rights recognises the right to strike under Article 11 ECHR.

Provision for a minimum service level Indicates legal provision for a minimum service level to be set in essential services.

Please note, we have included where, for example, a constitutional provision has allowed for a minimum service level to be set as an exception to the right to strike.

Agreement Indicates that the law provides for the minimum service level to be set by a sectoral agreement or negotiated agreement between the employer and employee/trade union.

Legislation may provide that a minimum service level should be achieved (e.g. ‘what is necessary’) but leaves the detail to an agreement between the employer and trade union.

Legislation Minimum service levels may be set by primary legislation.
Legislation/agreement Minimum service levels may be set by primary legislation, and where they are not then can be set by agreement between trade union and the employer.
Legislation/government Minimum service levels may be set by primary legislation, and where they are not then the relevant government or administrative authority may set the minimum service level.
Government Minimum service levels may be set by a government authority.
Employer Minimum service levels may be set by an employer (in the private sector) or the state (where the employee works in the public sector).

 

 

[i] NB that not all essential services in the countries listed are subject to minimum levels of service. For example, a majority of countries (33/35, with Austria and Serbia as exceptions based on accessible information) ban certain sectors (notably police services and armed forces) from striking.

[ii] In Belgium, minimum service requirements are set out for certain sectors including police and broadcasters, trains and public transport. They are otherwise laid down by a joint committee of trade union and employers.

[iii] There is no legislated minimum standard, but Czechia has reported that there is ‘ad hoc assessment’ during strikes, and “in practice, the trade unions and confederations […] post methodical instruction on their websites how to organise and hold strikes without lives and health of citizens being jeopardized including instruction how to ensure the minimum level of services during the strike.

[iv] In Denmark, there is no statutory provision for essential services, but Parliament can introduce a special act to end a dispute through compulsory arbitration if the industrial dispute otherwise threatens the national economy.

[v] In Finland, under the Act on Mediation in Labour Disputes (420/1962), if an intended labour stoppage could affect ‘essential functions of society’ or ‘prejudice the general interest to a considerable extent’ then they may be deferred by the Ministry of labour by 14 days if extra time for mediation is deemed necessary. This is the only legal protection of minimum services in the event of industrial action.

[vi] Ireland has not legislated for industrial action. However, the Industrial Relations Act 1990 makes provision for codes of practice to be made by the Labour Relations Commission. Under the Dispute Procedures including in Essential Services, it states ‘While the primary responsibility for the provision of minimum levels of services rests with managements, this Code recognises that there is a joint obligation on employers and trade unions to have in place agreed contingency plans and other arrangements to deal with any emergency which may arise during an industrial dispute. Employers and trade unions should co-operate with the introduction of such plans and contingency arrangements.’ In the event of problems, each side should consult assistance of the Labour Relations Commission.

[vii] The independent body is a Strike Committee in the first instance. If an employer and strike Committee cannot reach an agreement, then the minimum level of service is to be defined by the State Labour Inspectorate.

[viii] Luxembourg has not appeared to have legislated for a ‘minimum service level’ in essential services. However, in the event of a strike by public service employees (who are not otherwise banned from striking, e.g. medical personnel and the security services) the government can requisition workers who are ‘essential for the operation of essential services’. See: Loi du 16 avril 1979 portant réglementation de la grève dans les services de l’Etat et des établissements publics placés sous le contrôle direct de l’Etat and Loi du 24 décembre 1985 réglementant le droit de grève dans les services du secteur communal.

[ix] In Norway, there are no statutory provisions or legal requirements concerning minimum service levels, however, collective agreement between unions and employers can establish rules.

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