The government’s proposed Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill has been criticised by Patrick Harrington, General Secretary of the Solidarity union, who believes that the legislation poses a threat to workers’ ability to protect their pay and working conditions through strike action. The bill grants Ministers the power to create regulations within six sectors, including health, education, and transport, which would compel workers to work during strikes. Employers would issue work notices specifying who must work and their assigned tasks. Failure to comply could result in worker dismissals and significant damages for unions. The first sectors to be affected would likely be ambulance services, fire departments, and rail networks, as the government aims to expedite the implementation of the new rules by summer.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) contends that this legislation undermines democracy by forcing workers to cross picket lines even if they have participated in a lawful strike vote. The government’s own analysis warns that the legislation may actually lead to an increase in strikes. It also overlooks the measures workers already take to ensure essential services are maintained during industrial action. Furthermore, the bill introduces the possibility of sacking workers for engaging in strike action that has been democratically approved, removing their protection from unfair dismissal within the first 12 weeks of a strike. This reversal of the government’s initial commitment to safeguard workers from penalties is seen as a severe infringement on individual freedoms.
The legislation also places significant burdens on unions. They are required to take “reasonable steps” to prevent their members identified in work notices from participating in strikes. Failure to do so may result in injunctions halting the strike or imposing substantial damages, costs that are ultimately borne by union members through their subscriptions. The cap for damages has recently been raised to £1 million. However, the legislation lacks clarity in defining what constitutes “reasonable steps,” leaving trade unions uncertain about their responsibilities. The TUC views this requirement as a significant encroachment on union freedoms.
While ministers argue that the proposed system aligns with those in France, Spain, and Italy, European unions disagree. The European Trades Union Congress contends that the UK already has some of the most restrictive strike regulations in Europe, and the government’s plans would further deviate from democratic norms observed across the continent.
The proposed legislation fails to address the concerns of workers who have endured a prolonged wage squeeze, with public sector employees experiencing more significant wage gaps compared to their private sector counterparts. For instance, NHS nurses’ real wages have decreased by £5,000 since 2010, while midwives and paramedics face a reduction of over £6,000. The bill offers no solutions for these workers or the ongoing industrial disputes they face. Additionally, it provides no support for the public, who have borne the consequences of austerity measures over the past decade.
Solidarity urges individuals to join the campaign and defend the right to strike, emphasizing that every working person is under attack from these proposed laws.
You can start by signing the petition here.
Emergency protest: Protect the right to strike
Join the TUC organised protest in Westminster this Monday to demand that MPs reject the Strikes Bill & to demand that opposition parties commit to repeal the Strikes Bill. Date Monday, 22 May 2023 – 18:00 to 20:00