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.

Education Workers join the strikers

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The cost of living crisis has led to an increasing number of strikes, against austerity and against real term pay cuts offered by the government and bosses. Education workers are the latest to say, Enough is enough” and take strike action.

Tens of thousands of university workers at 150 universities began three days of strikes on Thursday against low pay, intolerable workloads, insecure contacts and pensions cuts.

70,000 University and College Union (UCU) members walked out on Thursday over pay, pensions and conditions—and plan to again on Wednesday of next week.

Also striking are support staff, members of the Unison and Unite unions, demanding better pay and conditions.

Thursday’s strike was held the same day that up to 50,000 teachers in Scotland walked out in their first national strike since the 1980s against pay restraint by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and Scottish National Party devolved government. Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) members rejected—with inflation now running at 14.2 percent—an initial 5 percent pay offer and a revised offer of 6.85 percent for the lowest-paid teachers. The union is demanding a 10 percent pay increase, also below inflation.

On picket lines across Britain, strikers made it clear that unions should strike together.

Strikers said bosses have the money to pay workers.

Activists are gearing up for a national demonstration that will gather at 1 pm at King’s Cross in London today.

Picture credit: KollectivFuture 2022. All rights reserved.

Health workers anger on pay

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Health secretary Therese Coffey said recently that NHS workers will not get a higher pay offer than the present one of 3 percent. So for all the praise during the most deadly phase of the pandemic, health workers are now being told to take a pay cut of almost 10 percent.

It’s another reason to vote for strikes in the ballots taking place now. Sharon Graham, leader of the Unite union, said, “With RPI now up to 12.6 percent, workers and communities must not pay for a crisis they did not create. We will not stand by and watch the country take a pay cut while corporations profit and the government pours petrol on the fire.

”“Vote yes to save the NHS!” is the Unison union’s slogan as it launches a massive strike ballot over pay. Some 320,000 health workers in England and Wales are set to receive ballot papers in the coming days. It comes after the government imposed a rise of just 4 percent—less than a third of the rate of inflation. Unison is joining the nurses’ RCN, midwives’ RCM, Unite, GMB and physiotherapists’ unions in asking its members to hit back with strikes. It now looks likely that there will be action by at least some groups of NHS workers in December or early next year.

The Unison ballot is “disaggregated”, meaning the vote will take place on a trust by trust basis. Organisers hope this will allow workers in parts of the NHS where union organisation is strong to strike, even if weaker areas fail to meet the Tories’ 50 percent turnout threshold. Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity, commented: “Our brothers and sisters in other unions will need to mount an enormous campaign to get the vote out. We have a number of members in the NHS and we will be discussing with them as to how best we can support any strikes and picket lines.”

Picture credit: KollectivFuture 2022. All rights reserved.

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.”