Fighting the anti-strike law
The government is attempting to rush through Parliament new laws that could undermine workers’ ability to take strike action to defend their pay and conditions.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill is a draconian piece of legislation.
It allows Ministers to write regulations in any services within six sectors (health, education, fire and rescue, border force, nuclear decommissioning and transport) that will force workers to work during strike action.
Employers will then issue work notices naming who has to work and what they must do.
Workers could be sacked and unions face huge damages if they fail to comply.
First in the firing line will be ambulance, fire and rail workers, with the government seeking to ram through new rules by the summer.
The TUC believes this new law is undemocratic by forcing workers to cross picket lines even if they have voted to strike in a legal ballot.
It is counter-productive: the government’s own analysis has warned that it could lead to more strikes.
And it ignores the steps that workers already take to ensure that life-and-limb cover is in place during industrial action.
Workers could be sacked
Workers could now be sacked for taking strike action that has been agreed in a democratic ballot.
If a person specified in their employer's work notice continues to take strike action despite being required to work during the strike, they will lose their protection from automatic unfair dismissal.
This currently applies for first 12 weeks of a strike.
This is a gross infringement of individuals’ freedom.
It is also a U-turn on ministers’ initial pledge was to protect individuals from penalties.
The significant risk of dismissal for workers who speak up about their pay and conditions will do nothing to resolve staffing shortages in public services.
Unions might have to pay large damages
The Bill says a union must take “reasonable steps” to ensure that all its members identified in the work notice do not take part in the strike action.
If it doesn’t it could union could face an injunction to stop the strike or have to pay huge damages. These costs come out of members’ subs.
The cap for damages was last year raised to £1 million.
The legislation doesn’t say what a “reasonable step” constitutes leaving trade unions uncertain of their responsibilities.
The TUC also believes that forcing unions to send their members across picket lines is a significant infringement of their freedoms.
Probably against international law
Ministers claim they are following similar systems in France, Spain and Italy.
But European unions disagree.
The European Trades Union Congress says: “The UK already has among the most draconian restrictions on the right to strike in Europe, and the UK government’s plans would push it even further away from normal, democratic practice across Europe.”
You can't legislate away dissatisfaction
Workers taking industrial action today have endured the longest wage squeeze since Napoleonic times.
Workers in the public sector have seen their wages fall much further behind those of other workers: public sector pay rises are currently running at less than half the rate of those in the private sector.
For example, in the NHS nurses are earning £5,000 a year less in real terms than they were in 2010. For midwives and paramedics this rises to over £6,000.
This Bill will do nothing to help those workers, or to resolve current industrial disputes.
And it will do nothing to support those using public services, who are seeing the consequences of a decade of austerity.