MPs to debate anti-union legislation as teachers prepare for strike ballot results

Katie Neame
© James Jiao/shutterstock.com
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The government’s minimum service levels bill will receive its second reading in parliament today. The legislation proposes to give the Business Secretary the power to set minimum service levels during strikes in key sectors, with employers instructing unions via ‘work notices’ how many workers will be required on strikes days to meet that level. Under the law, unions would be required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure members comply with the notice and could be sued if they fail to do so, while striking workers would lose their protection from unfair dismissal if the work notice says they should be working, provided that their employer has given them notice ahead of the strike day.

Commenting ahead of the debate, Angela Rayner accused Rishi Sunak of “lashing out at working people” to “distract from his weak and divided government” and declared that the legislation was “pouring petrol on the fire” of current industrial unrest. The deputy Labour leader said: “This shoddy, unworkable bill won’t do a thing to help working people or avoid strikes. Labour will be opposing this assault on common sense that would see fundamental British freedoms ripped up in order to distract from the crisis the Tories have inflicted on our country.” Rayner will face off against Business Secretary Grant Shapps in the debate this afternoon in what is sure to be a fiery exchange.

Teachers could be the latest group of workers to take industrial action, as the National Education Union (NEU) and the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) prepare to announce the results of their strike ballots. NEU general secretary Mary Bousted has said she thinks her union will meet the legal threshold for action – unlike fellow teaching union NASUWT, which announced on Thursday that it had missed the threshold despite nine out of ten members who took part in the ballot voting to strike. Bousted told Sky News this morning that there is a “workforce crisis in our schools”, highlighting the government’s failure on teacher recruitment.

The higher education sector will see 18 days of strike action in the coming months, after the University and College Union (UCU) announced last week that more than 70,000 of its members will walk out in disputes over pay, conditions and pensions – in what the union described as an “unprecedented programme of escalating strike action”. General secretary Jo Grady urged university vice-chancellors to use the “vast wealth” of the sector to address “over a decade of falling pay, rampant insecure employment practices and devastating pension cuts”. The exact dates of the strikes are expected to be announced this week.

On LabourList this morning, we have a piece from Richard Burgon MP on the minimum service levels legislation, in which he argues that the bill is not simply a “shameful attack on the democratic right to strike” but “part of a worrying pattern”. The Labour backbencher writes: “It’s clear that, faced with mounting unpopularity, the government is curtailing some of the basic freedoms that we have in a democratic society to oppose its decisions: at the ballot box, through peaceful protest and through strike action. This should alarm us all.”

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