The government is trying to pass new laws which could see unions being sued if they do not provide minimum levels of service during industrial action.

A number of leading unions have reacted to the proposed legislation, saying the measures are “dangerous” and “undemocratic”.

So, how will the planned laws work, which sectors will they affect and when could they be put in place? Here’s what we know so far.

What is the proposed anti-strike legislation and how would the law work?

The government introduced a bill in Parliament on Tuesday 10 January which, if passed, could require vital public services to deliver minimum safety levels during strikes and allow employers to enforce them.

Minimum safety levels are the levels of service the government will expect to be provided, and will cover fire, ambulance and rail services. They could include maintaining core service provision in emergency services, and ensuring key transport, travel and trade routes don’t completely shut down on strike days.

If ministers use the powers set out in legislation, employers would be able to prevent the strike from taking place or seek damages afterwards if unions do not comply with their obligations.

Katie Russell, a partner in the employment law team at Burges Salmon, told FactCheck: “If the union fails to take all reasonable steps to ensure minimum service levels are met during any period of industrial action, then under the legislation, employers would have the right to sue the trade union for damages caused by the failure to take those steps.”

What do unions and the government say?

Numerous strikes have taken place in the UK over the past few months, with rail workers, NHS staff and civil servants all taking part in recent industrial action.

The government said the proposed law will aim to minimise disruption when industrial strike action across different sectors takes place.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps said in a statement that “as well as protecting the freedom to strike, the government must also protect life and livelihoods” and that introducing minimum safety levels “will restore the balance between those seeking to strike and protecting the public from disproportionate disruption”.

But a number of leading unions have said the government should be trying to build trust and relationships with workers instead of “attacking” their right to strike.

Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of council at the British Medical Association, said: “This government has failed to ensure anything like minimum standards of patient care or service delivery in the NHS for many months, if not years. It is therefore laughable that Ministers are now attempting to bring in anti-union and anti-worker legislation under the false pretence of improving patient safety.”

She added: “When doctors and other health workers strike, we do so for improvements to our lives, for retention of staff and ultimately for the care of our patients. For this government to believe that anti-strike legislation, rather than investment in the NHS and in a sustainable plan for increasing the workforce, will make healthcare better, is not only ridiculous, but dangerous.”

Similarly, Onay Kasab, national lead officer at the Unite union, told FactCheck that the proposed legislation is “an attack on the ability of working people to defend pay, conditions and services” and is “an abdication of leadership” from the government.

This was echoed by Unison assistant general secretary, Jon Richards, who said: “Ministers should focus their time and energy on rebuilding trust and relationships with workers, not silencing and suppressing them.”

“Unison will be examining these proposals and considering how to respond, including any appropriate legal challenge,” he added.

Aruna Verma, associate professor at the University of Law, told FactCheck that campaigners looking to block the new policy could use judicial review, European Human Rights Law and injunctions, but “this will all depend on what the unions want to achieve”.

When could the new law be introduced and where in the UK will it apply?

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy told FactCheck: “As with all bills, this bill will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny before becoming law. We will confirm the parliamentary timetable for the bill and when the minimum safety levels for rail, ambulance and fire services will come into force, in due course.”

The measures will not affect planned strikes in January – including rail, nursing and ambulance staff walkouts – as the law will not have been passed by the time this industrial action takes place.

If it passes, the legislation will apply to England, Wales and Scotland, but not Northern Ireland.