New Anti-Strike Legislation: A Direct Attack on Workers’ Rights and Democracy

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The government’s new anti-strike legislation, which aims to enforce “minimum service levels” in key public sectors including the NHS and schools, has met with fierce opposition from unions and criticism from experts.

The proposed Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is being seen as a direct attack on workers’ fundamental human rights and an affront to parliamentary democracy. The Bill will apply to strikes in six essential sectors: health services, fire and rescue services, education services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning, and border security. These are the same six services identified in the previous Trade Union Act 2016, which already imposed strict requirements for strike mandates to have the support of at least 40% of those eligible to vote as well as a majority of those voting.

The Bill goes even further, however, by removing the requirement for minimum service levels (MSLs) to be negotiated by agreement between trade unions and employers, and instead gives complete discretion to the Secretary of State, Grant Shapps, to set the MSLs in each of the six services. This means that the MSLs can be set at such a high level that any strike will be rendered largely ineffective.

Furthermore, the Bill is a worrying symptom of how the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has become not only the friend of employers but also an instrument of the coercive state. Despite the government’s claims of respecting the right to strike, the Bill effectively renders the right to strike to be nothing more than a right to make a meaningless protest. The Bill also includes disproportionate sanctions to ensure obedience to the will of the state, further undermining workers’ rights.

Under the new law, bosses in health, education, fire, ambulance, rail and nuclear commissioning will be able to sue unions and sack employees if minimum levels are not met. Union members who refuse to work under the minimum service requirement could lose their jobs. The new law will also back employers bringing an injunction to prevent strikes or seeking damages afterwards if they go ahead.

This Bill is a dangerous and undemocratic attempt to silence workers and deny them their basic human rights. It must be opposed by all those who value democracy and workers’ rights. Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition, has pledged to repeal the anti-trade union legislation if Labour forms the next government.

Suicidal thoughts increase sharply amongst NHS and emergency workers

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The number of NHS and emergency workers seeking help for suicidal thoughts has increased sharply, research has revealed.

Solidarity union campaigns for workplace wellbeing

Figures from the Laura Hyde Foundation (LHF) shows that 946 workers contacted the charity in the first six months of 2022 for support over suicidal thoughts, up from 556 the year before.

The charity, which was set up by the family of nurse Laura Hyde who took her own life in 2016, offers help to medical and emergency service workers including nurses, doctors, paramedics, midwives, police officers and firefighters.

LHF has launched a new Feelings video to raise awareness of mental health issues among front-line workers, as the charity warned that people could face even more severe issues due to pressures from the cost-of-living crisis.

You can view the video here.

LHF chairman Liam Barnes said: “It is critically important that the new Prime Minister and her new Health Secretary put providing mental health support to emergency workers at the very top of their agenda.

“Sadly, the topic of mental health specifically for healthcare workers remains riddled with stigma. This simply has to end.”

Gemma Clay, 38, nurse and clinical doctorate fellow at the University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, called for more action to support front-line workers.

She said: “When I talk to staff, many of them tell me that the cost-of-living crisis is having a big impact on their mental health.

“Large numbers are also suffering from PTSD linked to the pandemic and burnout due to the current pressures that exist within the service.”

United protests and actions on October 1

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Saturday 1 October is set to be a major day of united strikes by over 170,000 workers. Rail workers, workers at Royal Mail and dock workers at Felixstowe will all strike. The media has dubbed the day of action a ‘perfect storm’.

On Friday the RMT emailed its 40,000 members on Network Rail and 14 train operating companies about a new strike date of 1 October. General secretary Mick Lynch added: “Due to the period of national mourning, the RMT will be making no press or public statements regarding the action.” The union may announce another day, probably 5 October, later.

The Aslef union, although it has also made no public statement, is also calling for more strikes by around 9,000 drivers at 12 companies. The managing director of rail operator LNER, David Horne, tweeted that the union had notified it of strikes on 1 October and 5 October.

The TSSA rail union has also called strikes for 1 October.

Over 115,000 Royal Mail workers in the CWU union were already set to strike on 1 October. And there are also scheduled strikes by more than 560 dockworkers at the Port of Liverpool, and 1,900 workers at the port of Felixstowe that cover that day. Together they move 60 percent of Britain’s container traffic.

The Liverpool strike is from Monday until 3 October and the Felixstowe one is from 27 September to 5 October. Unity is a big step forward. Pressure from below has helped to push the union leaders to call strikes on the same day.

On 1 October the Enough is Enough campaign needs to mobilise the 600,000 people who have signed up to its campaign. It calls for real pay rises, taxing the rich, an end to food poverty, decent homes for all and slashed energy bills.

It has now announced protests for 1 October in 13 cities — London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, Nottingham, Hull, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Norwich and Bristol. These can unite the picket lines and wider groups. Everyone should build them.

Don’t Pay UK have also called protests on the day.

Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of Solidarity union, commented:

The value of wages, having been stagnant for 12 years, is now falling. Offers of wage increases which are less than the rate of inflation is, in effect, wage cuts. That’s the stark reality for workers and that’s the main reason for strikes and protests. You can’t take money from people’s pockets without them getting angry.

“The other factor is that after a decade of austerity, people have had enough. They’ve seen public services privatised and being run for profit, not for need or the public good . That’s why the Labour Party’s pledge under Corbyn to renationalise the railways and water companies, as well as bring energy back into public ownership, was so popular.”

It’s good to see unions striking on the same day and that protests are being organised by Enough is Enough. If workers are to protect their living standards, then this action must spread and escalate. Workers must not be made to pay for bad government decisions and policy.  We need to see more days of action, and co-ordinated action, until we get a decent pay rise for all.”

Harrington continued:

“There is a lot of anger out there. And it needs to be harnessed in a constructive way so that workers get the pay rise that they deserve. That’s why I’m encouraging everyone to get involved in the protests on 1 October, and to support the strikers.”