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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 11:58 GMT
Why can't police strike?
The Magazine answers...

Police strike of 1919
The last police strike was 1919
Every police officer in the UK is to be balloted over whether they want the right to strike. It's one of the few professions to be banned from striking. Why?

They haven't done it since 1919, but the police will be balloted in the New Year on whether they should lobby for a change in the law to give them the right to strike.

Police officers across the UK are currently banned from taking strike action under the Police Act 1996. But the Police Federation of England and Wales is to ballot rank-and-file officers on moves to overturn the law.

The dispute is over a pay settlement, and the federation is planning to challenge the strike ban on human rights grounds.

Banned under Police Act because of nature of job they do on public's behalf

The police have been banned from striking since 1919, when the Police Act was first established. They do not have the employment rights enjoyed by other workers because of the nature of the job they do on behalf of the public.

The act followed strikes in London and Liverpool during 1918 and 1919, when almost every constable and sergeant refused to go on duty.

"They were demanding a big pay increase, a widows' pension, the recognition of their illegal trade union and the reinstatement of those who had been sacked for their union activities," says a federation spokeswoman.

No-strike agreement

The Prime Minister at the time, David Lloyd George, gave in to the strikers on pay, but within months the union was smashed and the police federation established.

It is not a union, but has a statutory responsibility to represent its members - all officers below the rank of superintendent - in all matters affecting their welfare and efficiency. Since that time, police officers have been prohibited from striking by statute.

It is the first time the strike ban has been challenged since it was established, says the federation spokeswoman.

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"This is a very big deal. Officers have been disgruntled over things in the past but they have never been balloted over whether they want the right to strike."

Federation chairman Jan Berry says it is "alien to police officers to want to go on strike".

"But they feel they have been pushed into a corner where their human rights have been withdrawn from them."

Industrial action police officers can legally take include a work-to-rule, which could severely hit the service, and they can also withdraw from voluntary posts, such as policing football matches.

Other professions have agreements over strike action but, unlike the police, are not banned by law. Prison officers were banned from taking such action in 1994 the then Conservative government. But Labour repealed the ban and introduced a voluntary "no strike agreement" aimed at improving volatile industrial relations.

Nurses are legally entitled to strike but the Royal College of Nursing, which represents two thirds of all nurses, has a ruling that they should only walk out where it is not detrimental to the wellbeing or interests of patients.


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