Following strikes across the public sector, the Government have announced plans to stem strike action and ensure minimum levels of service.
The UK government has announced plans to introduce a bill to Parliament on Tuesday that would ensure public sector services maintain minimum service levels during strike action.
The move comes amid a wave of industrial action across the public sector as workers seek pay rises in the face of the rising cost of living and continuing inflationary pressures. Particular attention has been drawn to the nurse and ambulance strikes in recent weeks, placing the health and safety of patients in jeopardy.
According to Downing Street, the new legislation is necessary to “protect the public”. However, unions have condemned the plans and have threatened legal action. The Labour party has also criticized the proposals, stating that the plans “won’t work”.
The government’s proposals would extend laws requiring a minimum level of service during industrial action that were already promised for public transport as part of the Conservative’s 2019 election manifesto. A bill was introduced to Parliament in October, and the government is now seeking to extend this requirement to five other areas – the NHS, education, fire and rescue, border security, and nuclear decommissioning.
Unfair or necessary?
The government states that service levels are a safety issue and that to meet minimum staffing levels, employers would be able to issue a “work notice” stating the workforce they need. Employees named on the work notice would lose their right to protection from unfair dismissal if they then went on strike.
Business Secretary, Grant Shapps defended the proposed legislation, stating that it is similar to existing laws in other modern European economies. He stated that it is “perfectly reasonable to expect that if you have a heart attack or stroke you will still be able to get an ambulance.” Mr Shapps said the legislation was being introduced after ambulance unions did not voluntarily provide a minimum service level during strikes in December.
However, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, criticised the plans, stating that the way to resolve disputes is through proper negotiation. He also said that in other countries that have minimum services rules, “it never works”.
The proposals have also drawn condemnation from unions who have threatened a legal challenge.
MPs will get a chance to debate the bill – which applies to England, Wales and Scotland – next week. Moreover, any legislation would not have an impact on strikes that are set to go ahead this month.
The plans to introduce this legislation comes a surprise to many, given the Government’s refusal to sit down with the RCN in recent weeks. It seems their approach is to go nuclear on the unions, enacting legislation to reduce worker’s rights to protest pay and conditions. This willingness to stem rights in the face of civil disorder was shown after the enactment of the Policing and Crime Bill to stop protesters.
The Government will have to gauge the response from the public regarding this development. With a highlight anticipated election in the next two years, the Conservatives should tread lightly given public perception in the polls.