Strike action

“The right to strike is an intrinsic corollary to the right to organize protected by Convention No. 87.”

“While the Committee has always regarded the right to strike as constituting a fundamental right of workers and of their organizations, it has regarded it as such only in so far as it is utilized as a means of defending their economic interests.”

1. Objectives of the strike

  • Economic and social issues strikes: The occupational and economic interests which workers defend through the exercise of the right to strike do not only concern better working conditions or collective claims of an occupational nature, but also the seeking of solutions to economic and social policy questions and problems facing the undertaking which are of direct concern to the workers (CFA Compilation of 2018, para 758).
  • Political strikes: Strikes of a purely political nature and strikes decided systematically long before negotiations take place do not fall within the scope of the principles of freedom of association (CFA Compilation of 2018, para 760).
  • Solidarity / sympathy strikes: A general prohibition of sympathy strikes could lead to abuse and workers should be able to take such action provided the initial strike they are supporting is itself lawful (CFA Compilation of 2018, para 770).


2. Prohibition of strikes applies to certain categories of workers

The CFA has stated on many occasions that strikes at the national level are legitimate in so far as they have economic and social objectives and not purely political ones; the prohibition of strikes could only be acceptable in the case of public servants exercising authority in the name of the State or of workers in essential services in the strict sense of the term, i.e. services whose interruption could endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population (CFA Compilation of 2018, para 779).

Restrictions based on the workers’ status

According to an ILO principle, “the prohibition of the right to strike in the public service should be limited to public servants exercising authority in the name of the State.”

Restrictions based on the functions performed

According to an ILO principle: “Workers in essential services should benefit from compensatory procedures for the settlement of disputes and the presentation of their demands, such as adequate, impartial and speedy conciliation and arbitration procedures in which the parties concerned can take part at every stage and in which the awards, once made, are fully and promptly implemented.”

What constitutes “essential services”?
  • Only those services the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population, e.g. the hospital sector, electricity services, water supply services, the telephone service or air traffic control
What does not constitute “essential services”?
  • These include radio and television, the petroleum sector and ports, banking, computer services for the collection of excise duties and taxes, department stores and pleasure parks, the metal and mining industries, transport generally, refrigeration enterprises, hotel services, construction, automobile manufacturing, aircraft repair, agricultural activities, the supply and distribution of foodstuffs, the Mint, the government printing service, the state alcohol, salt and tobacco monopolies, the education sector, metropolitan transport, postal services. See an application in practice. 

Essential and non-essential services - Download the chart

Distinguishing essential from negotiated minimum services

In situations in which a substantial restriction or total prohibition of strike action would not appear to be justified and where, without calling into question the right to strike of the large majority of workers, consideration might be given to ensuring that users’ basic needs are met or that facilities operate safely or without interruption, the introduction of a negotiated minimum service, as a possible alternative to a total prohibition of strikes, could be appropriate. (CEACR 2012 General Survey, para. 136)

ILO principles:

  • It must be a minimum service, limited to the operations which are strictly necessary to meet the basic needs of the population or the minimum requirements of the service, while maintaining the effectiveness of the pressure brought to bear by the strike action.
  • The workers’ organizations involved should be able to participate in defining such a service along with employers and the relevant public authorities.

Restrictions based on the hierarchical rank of these workers i.e. managerial staff

Restrictions based on a combination of the above


3. Defining strike prerequisites

Acceptable prerequisites for calling a strike include:

Prerequisites which may be excessive:


4. Strike methods

According to ILO principles, “the conditions that have to be fulfilled under the law in order to render a strike lawful should be reasonable and in any event not such as to place a substantial limitation on the means of action open to trade union organizations.” (CFA Compilation of 2018, para. 789)

The “prohibition of picketing is justified only if action ceases to be peaceful.” (CFA Compilation of 2018, para. 937)


5. Compulsory arbitration

Compulsory arbitration to end a collective labour dispute and a strike is acceptable – if it is at the request of both parties involved in the dispute or if the strike in question may be restricted, even banned – for example in the case of disputes in the public service involving public servants exercising authority in the name of the State or in essential services (in the strict sense of the term).