Unions attack government’s anti-strike plans as ambulance workers walk out
About 25,000 ambulance workers across England and Wales are striking today in the ongoing dispute with the government over pay.
Paramedics, call handlers, drivers and technicians who belong to the Unison and GMB unions are taking part in staggered strikes across a 24-hour period.
NHS England has told patients to continue to call 999 for life-threatening emergencies but to use 111, GPs and pharmacies for non-urgent needs.
Meanwhile health unions said they won’t be submitting joint evidence to the NHS pay review body for the next wage round while the current industrial disputes remain unresolved.
Instead, the 14 unions – representing more than one million ambulance staff, nurses, porters, healthcare assistants, physiotherapists and other NHS workers in England – have called for direct pay talks with ministers.
In other strike news, rail unions have told MPs that pay deals are “a long way off”, with further train strikes looming.
The latest developments in the strikes hitting several industries across the UK follow the first reading yesterday of a government ‘minimum service bill which will restrict workers’ right to strike.
The government said it wants to ensure there are “minimum levels of service” during strikes but the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said the bill is an “attack on the right to strike” and dubbed it the “sack key workers bill” .
The legislation would effectively mean that when workers in health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning voted to strike, they could be forced to work or face the sack if they don’t comply.
Business secretary, Grant Shapps said in a statement: “The first job of any government is to keep the public safe. Because whilst we absolutely believe in the ability to strike, we are duty-bound to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people.”
‘Clapping to sacking’
But TUC general secretary Paul Nowak accused the government of attacking workers’ right to strike which he said was a “fundamental British freedom”.
“This legislation would mean that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply. That’s undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal,” said Nowak.
He added: “Conservative ministers have gone from clapping key workers to sacking key workers. They seem more interested in scheming up new draconian restrictions on the right to strike than addressing the real concerns of public sector workers. Let’s be clear. If passed, this bill will prolong disputes and poison industrial relations – leading to more frequent strikes.”