A public service that is essential for the maintenance of public health, safety, and order, such as the police, fire, or ambulance service. In many countries, the essential nature of these services has been used to justify restrictions on the rights of their employees to join unions, engage in collective bargaining, and take industrial action. In the UK, for instance, police officers are denied the right to join a trade union, though the Police Federation serves as an equivalent, and cannot go on strike. As public services became more strike prone from the late 1960s, there were repeated calls in the UK for a ban on strikes in essential services. Successive governments have drawn back from such action, though the regulations covering police officers have been extended to the prison service and the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher imposed a ban on trade unions at the secret communications centre GCHQ (rescinded by the Labour government in 1997). [See state of emergency.]
Subjects: Human Resource Management.