Workers Rally Against Controversial Anti-Union Legislation


Activists gathered outside Parliament to protest the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill yesterday evening. The Bill is a piece of legislation criticised for undermining workers’ rights. The bill aims to empower employers and even ministers to dismiss essential sector workers who refuse to cross their own picket lines and enforce a vague “minimum service level” during strikes. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) warned that approximately 5.5 million workers could be affected by the proposed law.

The legislation has faced widespread condemnation from MPs, peers, employers, international rights groups, and unions across Europe. Labour, pledging to repeal the bill as soon as possible, strongly opposes it. TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak criticized the bill, stating that it is undemocratic, unworkable, and likely unlawful. He urged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to abandon the bill and safeguard workers’ right to strike.

Supporting the opposition, Fire Brigades Union head Matt Wrack argued that the UK already has restrictive anti-union laws, which have resulted in declining wages and increased exploitation. He emphasized that workers are rising against the hard-right government, highlighting the need for negotiation rather than dismissal and victimization.

The bill faced amendments in the House of Lords, including the removal of consequences for workers who do not comply with work notices and exemptions for Wales and Scotland. Pressure is expected to be exerted on Tory MPs by Downing Street to reject these amendments.

The rally outside Parliament brought together around 600 activists from various unions, including GMB, Unite, CWU, Equity, and RMT. Protesters voiced their concerns over the erosion of workers’ rights and the broader crackdown on dissenting voices. They emphasized the need to defend the right to strike and denounced the Tories’ attempts to make strikes virtually impossible.

While some speakers called for electing a Labour government to repeal the legislation, others expressed skepticism and highlighted the importance of continued industrial action. Union leaders, such as the RMT general secretary, vowed to resist the new laws and urged unions to engage in acts of disobedience and defiance.

It is crucial for workers and unions to translate their words into action to effectively challenge and overcome these restrictive laws. The fight against the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill requires a sustained and united effort to protect workers’ rights and improve their working conditions.

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


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.

Union News 7th January 2023


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