A picket line is where workers and union reps (‘picketers’ or ‘pickets’) stand outside a workplace to tell other people why they are striking. Pickets may also ask people not to:
- do some of their usual work
- go into work
Pickets must not prevent people from going to work or doing their usual work if they want to do so.
The picketing code of practice explains the rules around lawful picketing.
Picketing and the law
It’s a criminal offence for pickets to:
- use threatening or abusive behaviour to people walking past or crossing the picket line
- block people or vehicles trying to get into the workplace which is on strike (called ‘causing an obstruction’ by police)
- carry weapons
- damage property
- cause or threaten to cause a ‘breach of the peace’
- try to block roads near the picket line (called ‘causing an obstruction to the public highway’)
- try to stop the police who are outside the workplace from doing their job
You can have legal action taken against you if you break the law or encourage others to do so when you’re picketing. This includes:
- trespassing (trying to enter a building without permission)
- making a noise nuisance
- using threatening language or offensive material, libel or slander in leaflets, banners, placards, chants or speeches
If you break a court order banning you or your trade union from holding a picket, you could be open to further legal action (otherwise known as ‘contempt of court’).
Police have special powers to stop a mass picket if they think there’s a danger of:
- serious public disorder (like a riot)
- serious damage to property
The Code of Practice on picketing says usually there should be no more than 6 people outside an entrance to a workplace.
If you don’t stop picketing when told do so by police, you can be arrested.
Flying pickets are groups of striking workers that move from one workplace to another to picket them. Usually flying pickets are illegal - you can only join a picket line at your workplace.
Trade union reps can be on picket lines at different workplaces if they’re responsible for organising workers in those workplaces.