Welcome to Reed Smith’s Monthly Global Employment Law blog post. This month’s post covers the legality of employee strikes in five key jurisdictions: France, Germany, Hong Kong, the UK and the United States.
According to the French Supreme Court, a lawful strike action is defined as a collective cessation of work, the purpose of which is to support professional claims. In the private sector, the right to strike, as a constitutional right, cannot be restricted or regulated by a collective agreement or by the employer itself. There is thus no obligation to comply with a specific notice period prior to going on strike. Employees, however, must inform the employer of their claims at the time they decide to stop working and go on strike.
Employment contracts are suspended during the strike (i.e., the employees do not perform their duties and the employer does not pay them). Employees on strike are protected against any disciplinary sanctions, including dismissals in the sense that any sanctions that may be imposed where there is lawful strike action are deemed to be null and void. This protection does not apply when the strike is unlawful (i.e., the action does not support professional claims or where the employees on strike prevent non-strikers from working).
The majority of strike actions are usually settled without having to commence legal action before the courts.
In Germany, a strike is the typical industrial action on the part of the employees and trade unions. To be legal, a strike must meet certain formal requirements and pursue a legitimate purpose. Formally, a strike must be (i) organised by a trade union; and (ii) called following a strike vote conducted according to democratic principles. Therefore, a so-called “wildcat” strike, which is not organised by a trade union, is illegal. Any strike must pursue a legal purpose, which can only be to change working conditions. Furthermore, a strike must be conducted in a reasonable and lawful manner. Therefore, the union may not occupy the premises, call on customers of the employer to boycott the product, or prevent employees willing to work from entering the premises and working.