A picket line is where workers and trade union representatives stand outside a workplace to tell other people why they are striking.
Who can join a picket
Employees taking part in strike action can join a picket line at their workplace. This includes:
- trade union members
- employees in the same 'bargaining unit' as the trade union members – this is the group of employees represented by the trade union
Trade union officials can also join a picket.
Crossing a picket
It's up to the person entering the workplace to decide whether they want to cross the picket line.
Picketers must allow people to enter the workplace if they want to.
Employees represented by the trade union
If an employee is part of the bargaining unit represented by the trade union, they can decide to either:
- cross the picket and continue working
- not cross the picket and strike
If they work from home or another site, they might not have to cross the picket line. But they do need to decide whether to strike or not.
Other employees, suppliers and people who need access
Other people can cross the picket, including:
- employees who are not eligible to strike
- anyone needing to deliver goods or services to the workplace
If they decide not to cross the picket, this is called 'secondary' or 'sympathy' action.
Secondary action is unofficial action. If someone takes this action they are not protected by industrial action law. However, they'll still have their usual employment rights.
If it's a shared premises
Employees can picket outside a workplace that shares an entrance with other workplaces not involved in the dispute. In this situation, the picket line should not affect anyone going to the other workplaces.
Picket line rules
By law, people taking part in a picket can peacefully:
- talk to people wanting to enter their workplace
- explain why they're striking
- ask people not to cross the picket line
Picketers must not:
- block or stop anyone entering the workplace or doing work
- stop any vehicles entering the premises
- threaten or abuse anyone
The full rules on picketing are covered by the picketing Code of Practice on GOV.UK.
Each picket must have a supervisor appointed by the trade union organising the picket.
The supervisor is responsible for the people on the picket following the rules. They must be at the picket, or available to attend at short notice.
Talk to the picket line supervisor if:
- you're picketing and want to check what to do on the picket line
- you have any questions about the picket line
- you feel there's an issue with the picket line
As a picket supervisor, you can: