UK Union Leaders Criticise Trikes Bill As ‘Reprehensible’

Business secretary dismisses fears that legislation could prompt pre-emptive walkouts

British union leaders have lambasted new government anti-strike legislation as “reprehensible” and “an attack on human rights” as ministers insisted the new laws would help protect the general public.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT rail union, on Tuesday urged ministers to drop the “draconian legislation”, which imposes minimum service levels on most of the public sector during strikes, saying it would “punish” workers who had demanded decent pay and working conditions.

“One of the most important things in any democratic society is to have free trade unions,” he said. “This is an attack on human rights and civil liberties which we will oppose in the courts, parliament and the workplace.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS civil service union, said that the anti-strike legislation would “criminalise” public sector workers. “It’s reprehensible, provocative and vindictive, and we will fight the legislation every step of the way.”

Under the legislation, employers would issue a “work notice” to specify the number of workers needed to meet minimum service levels. If workers included in the “work notice” join the walkouts they could lose the right to automatic protection from unfair dismissal.

The bill proposing the minimum service agreements, which was presented to parliament on Tuesday, would if passed mean that a certain proportion of workers in many critical sectors will have to keep working during industrial action.

Some employers are sceptical about the bill, arguing privately that it could be counter-productive and could be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights. But business secretary Grant Shapps told the House of Commons that he believed the legislation was compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Alan Brown, transport spokesperson for the Scottish National party, said the bill was part of a “rightwing culture war”, which “stinks”. Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said that France and Spain — which have similar laws — lose “vastly more” days to strikes than the UK. “The secretary of state goes in one breath from thanking nurses to sacking them.

That is not just insulting but utterly stupid,” she added. However, Shapps insisted that the legislation would “keep the public safe” by ensuring that vital public services continued to function as industrial disputes dragged on. The government will use the bill to impose the arrangements on ambulance, fire and rail services following a public consultation.

Ministers hope to reach voluntary agreements on minimum safety levels for other sectors — education, border security, nuclear decommissioning, other health services and other transport services. But if voluntary deals cannot be reached, the government will unilaterally impose the arrangements on these sectors too.

Shapps said “every other European country” had some form of minimum safety levels in place. “We want to make sure that we’re doing the same thing to protect the British people,” he said, adding that the rules were more modest than in countries such as Australia and Canada where strikes are banned altogether in “blue light services”.

Recommended Sarah O’Connor Solving UK strikes is not about winning the argument The government was not planning to implement an outright ban on striking of the sort that had applied to the police in the UK for a century, he said.

“Even the International Labour Organization — the guardian of workers’ rights around the world to which the TUC itself subscribes — says that minimum service levels are a proportionate way of balancing the right to strike with the need to protect the wider public,” Shapps told the Commons.

The government’s own impact assessment of the suggested legislation could trigger a wave of pre-emptive strikes and ultimately lead to more disruption, for example “work to rule” action. But Shapps said he did not believe that would be the case. “Impact assessments do the job of having a look all around and saying, what would be the risks, what are the opportunities, and they often say these things.”

Until recently, the government had planned to limit the imposition of new MSAs to the railways, which have been hit by disruptive strikes since the summer.



Arab Observer

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