Ban on emergency service strikes ‘wrong solution to serious problem’, Reeves says

Katie Neame

Rachel Reeves has argued that banning emergency service workers from going on strike is the “wrong solution to a very serious problem” and urged the government to resolve the issues that are causing workers to take industrial action.

Ministers are reportedly considering restricting or potentially removing the right of ambulance workers and firefighters to go on strike. Education Secretary Gillian Keegan suggested this morning that health workers and others in “critical infrastructure” could be banned from take industrial action.

The Shadow Chancellor told Sky News: “This is the wrong solution to a very serious problem. Instead of trying to stop industrial action through legislation, the government should be trying to resolve these issues that are causing key workers to take this action in the first place.”

Reeves said: “We didn’t have this sort of industrial action under the last Labour government, because the last Labour government treated key workers with the respect and the dignity that they deserved and got round the table and negotiated. That’s what we need to see from this government.”

“The sooner that happens, the better for the people who work in those services, the people who rely on those services and, of course, the small businesses who rely on the trains to get them there,” the Labour frontbencher added.

Reeves said Labour would have a “different approach” to the government in response to strike action planned for the coming weeks, telling Sky News that the party would “invest in public services”.

Addressing the Commons on Wednesday, Rishi Sunak said: “If the union leaders continue to be unreasonable, it is my duty to take action to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British public. That is why, since I became Prime Minister, I have been working for new, tough laws to protect people from that disruption.”

The government is expected to set out a package of measures in the new year. Other proposals ministers are reportedly considering include introducing minimum service levels across the public sector, increasing the threshold for strike ballots and lengthening the notice period for strikes.

Addressing attendees at Labour’s business conference earlier today, Reeves and Keir Starmer did not commit to repealing the government’s proposed anti-strike legislation, though the Labour leader described the proposal to ban strikes by emergency workers as “wrong”.

Reeves said committing to reverse the plans was “jumping the gun a little bit”, adding: “The Conservatives U-turn every day of the week, and I would expect to have several more before we get to the next election.”

Reacting to Sunak’s comments on Wednesday, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Yet again, the Prime Minster shows how completely out of touch he is.

“Rather than dealing with the critical issue of workers suffering pay cuts as prices rocket, he promises to attack the very organisations that are fighting for workers and putting more money in their pockets. No one will be fooled by this attempt to divert attention away from the sheer incompetence of this government.”

Also commenting on the government’s plans, Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Britain already has among the world’s most restrictive anti-trade union laws in the western world.

“To further restrict the right to take industrial action would be a highly authoritarian move and more in keeping with the actions of a dictatorial regime.”

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