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Government to introduce ‘anti-strike’ legislation

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

The Government has confirmed it will bring in laws to ensure the public receives a “minimum service” during industrial action by workers in various sectors.

The legislation has been planned for some time but ministers are now rushing a bill through Parliament in the coming weeks as nurses, ambulance workers, Border Force staff and rail workers all take part in industrial action.

The plans will set “minimum service levels” in six sectors, including the health service, rail, education, fire and border security. The laws are rumoured to allow bosses to sue unions and sack employees if the minimum levels are not met. The Government said it plans to “reach voluntary agreements” with some other sectors.

It will now consult on what those service levels should be, but said it would take into account that “disruption to blue light services puts lives at immediate risk”.

In a statement the Government said it would “always protect the ability to strike”, but added “it must be balanced with the public’s right to life and livelihoods”.

Wrong, unworkable, illegal?

The move was heavily criticised by unions including the Trades Union Congress (TUC), GMB and Unite.

Paul Nowak, TUC general secretary, said: “This is an attack on the right to strike. It’s an attack on working people. And it’s an attack on one of our longstanding British liberties.  

“It means that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t. That’s wrong, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal.  

“The announcement offers nothing more to help with this year’s pay and the cost-of-living crisis. Our public services are already deep in a staffing crisis. But this Government has gone from clapping key workers to threatening them with the sack if they take lawful action for a pay rise. It will only push more people away from essential jobs in public services, harming the whole nation.” 

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Yet again, Rishi Sunak abdicates his responsibility as a leader. “Instead of silly posturing and game playing, he should step up to the plate, act as a leader and start negotiating to resolve the crises his Government has created.

“Whatever the latest scheme the government comes up with to attack us, unions will continue to defend workers.”

GMB slammed the anti-strike legislation, saying it was a “desperate” move.

‘Strike action disruptive for everyone’

Business secretary, Grant Shapps, said: We hugely value the work of our public services and we’re reaching out to unions to have an honest conversation on pay, conditions and reform. Industrial action is disruptive for everyone – from people relying on essential services to get to work or care for their family to hard-working business owners whose sales suffer. It also costs those striking at a time when family budgets are tight.

As well as protecting the freedom to strike, the government must also protect life and livelihoods. While we hope that voluntary agreements can continue to be made in most cases, introducing minimum safety levels – the minimum levels of service we expect to be provided – will restore the balance between those seeking to strike and protecting the public from disproportionate disruption.

Sir Keir Starmer has promised to repeal any new anti-strike laws introduced by Rishi Sunak’s government if the Labour Party wins the next general election.