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New anti-strikes law will ‘poison’ industrial relations, UK ministers warned

10 Jan 2023 5 minute read
UK Business Secretary Grant Shapps – Photo: PPA Wire/PA Images – Victoria Jones

New laws requiring minimum levels of service from ambulance staff, firefighters and railway workers during industrial action risk triggering a fresh clash with the unions, UK ministers have been warned.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps has claimed the new legislation, being introduced in the Commons on Tuesday, is a “common-sense” response to the wave of industrial unrest.

But unions warned it could see key workers facing the sack if they exercise their right to strike, and that if it becomes law it could “poison industrial relations” and lead to more walkouts.

Mr Shapps said the new Bill would end the “postcode lottery” seen during the ambulance strike, when differing levels of service were agreed by striking unions with local NHS organisations.

“I don’t think any civilised society should have a situation where we can’t get agreement to, for example, have an ambulance turn up on a strike day for the most serious of all types of ailments,” he told Times Radio.

On Sky News, Mr Shapps said: “The problem we had in the recent strikes was that the Royal College of Nursing – that’s the nurses – did make that agreement at the national level so there was a guarantee.

“Unfortunately, the ambulance unions didn’t do that last time round, so there was a sort of regional postcode lottery. That’s the thing we want to avoid.

“That’s why today I’ll introduce minimum safety levels and service levels for key public services to make sure that we don’t end up in a situation where people’s lives are at risk, while still respecting the right to withdraw labour and strike.”

He played down the prospect of union members being sacked for refusing to work in line with the new law and insisted the Government is prepared for the legislation to be challenged in the courts.

Forever strikes

Mr Shapps also said the Government wants to end “forever strikes” on the rail network and argued that new anti-strike legislation would bring the UK “into line” with other European countries.

“Everyone knows we want to bring these strikes, which in some cases, railways for example, seem to have turned into sort of forever strikes,” he said.

“We want to bring this to a close and the Government is bending over backwards to do that.”

An impact assessment prepared by officials for earlier legislation aimed at imposing minimum service levels on the rail network warned that it risks a “potential increase in strike action”.

Mr Shapps said “I don’t think that’s likely” and said he hopes the legislation would not have to be used.

But Trades Union Congress general secretary Paul Nowak warned the legislation would risk further strikes.

“This legislation would mean that, when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply. That’s undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal,” he said.

“Let’s be clear: if passed, this Bill will prolong disputes and poison industrial relations – leading to more frequent strikes.”

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This is an attack on all workers – including key workers, who kept our public services going during the pandemic.

“It’s an attack on Britain’s Covid heroes and on all workers. We need a mass movement of resistance to this authoritarian attack.”

Dangerous gimmick

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This Bill is another dangerous gimmick from a Government that should be negotiating to resolve the current crisis they have caused.”

The introduction of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill comes a day after transport, health and education unions held a series of crisis meetings with Westminster ministers.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay is considering backdating next year’s NHS staff pay increase as part of efforts to prevent further strikes, a union involved in the talks claimed.

Mr Barclay used a meeting with health unions on Monday to suggest that improvements in efficiency and productivity within the health service could “unlock additional funding” to lead to an increased offer for the 2023/24 pay settlement in the spring.

Sara Gorton, head of health at Unison, said there had been an “acknowledgement” from the Health Secretary during the talks that avoiding strikes over next year’s pay settlement would “involve a reach-back” into the current pay year.

It raises the prospect that the pay deal for 2023/24, which is due to be agreed in time for April, could be backdated and applied to the final quarter of the 2022/23 financial year.

The unions also raised the prospect of a one-off payment to ease the cost-of-living burden.

The GMB union said a strike by ambulance workers will still go ahead on Wednesday unless a “significant” pay offer is made by the Government.

National secretary Rachel Harrison told BBC Breakfast: “Yesterday was a real shift, because there was that willingness from the Secretary of State and from his team to listen to us, to talk to us about pay for next year specifically, but unfortunately the meeting wasn’t progressive enough for us to be able to suspend the strike action tomorrow because no offer has yet still been made.”

Meanwhile, primary schools around Scotland have closed after last-ditch talks failed to prevent strike action, with secondary school staff set to walk out on Wednesday.


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Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
26 days ago

We always believed that human rights abusing, anti democracy, totalitarian, authoritarian, draconian and dictatorial governments were in far flung lands but to quote Fatboy Slim, it’s ‘RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW!’.

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
26 days ago

The little emperor reaches into his basket of snakes and pulls out the many titled split-tongued hipnostic Shapps to administer the sedative…

marc
marc
26 days ago

The Trade Unions have been demonised for nearly half a century, but the tide is turning, union leaders like Mick Lynch are media savvy and enjoy positive public option. The Tory’s see this and are panicking, but they are going to score a massive and permanently damaging own goal if they think they can legislate their way out of the massive hole they have dug themselves into

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
26 days ago
Reply to  marc

Did you hear the Shapps Crap on the lunch time news today? He was complaining that the strikes were meaning that people were not getting ambulances when they make a 999 call. Funnily enough that was happening before all these strike took off because of Tory cuts to the Health Service budget and a failure to do any kind of manpower planning in the NHS and, more importantly, social care. So if your don’t get the ambulance you hoped for, remember it is not the Union’s fault, but the Tory Govrnment’s fault. Thought No 2. – If they are going… Read more »

hdavies15
hdavies15
25 days ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

Minimum Service levels ? – Why don’t they apply that concept to their own activity? They’d be fired instantly for their shabby track record. Nothing done to budget, nothing done to time, often nothing done at all! Woeful doesn’t get half way to describing their underperformance. Shapps, of course, is a prize example of under performance. Seldom does a guy do so little after yacking so much.

Sir Montague Flange
Sir Montague Flange
26 days ago

Are we sure this is Grant Shapps and not Michael Green or Sebastian Fox or it could be Corinne Stockheath, job to say when dealing with lying tories

David
David
26 days ago

A worker who cannot withhold their labour is NOT a worker they are a SLAVE or a SERF.

hdavies15
hdavies15
25 days ago
Reply to  David

Reversion to serfdom is said to be a key component of the agenda of the new world order, global elite or whatever else you want to call this opaque group of allegedly all powerful megalomaniacs. Until recently I have been a sceptic as there is too much conflict to warrant belief in an unified attempt at imposing anything like a “world order”. Now I begin to see the seeds, the foundations of such an attempt along with other subversive activity all aimed at reducing ordinary folk, be they working people or not, to a state of submissive obedience/compliance, or failing… Read more »

David
David
25 days ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Adam Price studied at Harvard University & gaining a fellowship at the Center for International Development in the John F. Kennedy School of Government a possible connection to new world order supporters (google for further info.).

Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
25 days ago
Reply to  hdavies15

Dark, dark Davos! I wonder who is going from Wales…

hdavies15
hdavies15
25 days ago
Reply to  Mab Meirion

Haven’t got a private jet. Can I borrow yours?

Riki
Riki
25 days ago
Reply to  hdavies15

NWO has long since been here! It arose from the ashes of WW2. Btw, They will never won’t to get rid of nation states, that is a clear myth that surrounds their real world agenda. Think about it, why would they when playing them off against each others works to such effect? Russia vs Ukraine for Example in the hear and now!

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