The Fire Brigades Union has called on the TUC to lead a “mass movement of non-compliance” with the government’s minimum service levels bill should it be passed by parliament, arguing that such a strategy could stop the law “dead in its tracks”.
The firefighters’ union is calling for an emergency congress of the TUC to be convened to launch a “campaign of defiance and civil disobedience” against the legislation should it become law.
The bill – which would see minimum service levels enforced during strikes in certain areas of the public sector – is currently at committee stage in the Lords. It passed its third reading in the Commons unamended back in January, by 315 votes to 246.
Matt Wrack today condemned the bill as “one of the most draconian attacks on the rights of working people in decades”, arguing that it is a “pernicious piece of legislation that’s in keeping with authoritarian regimes around the world”.
The bill proposes to give the Business Secretary the power to set minimum service levels during strikes in six sectors – health, education, fire rescue, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning – with employers instructing unions via ‘work notices’ how many workers will be required on strikes days to meet that level.
Unions would be required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure members comply with work notices and could be sued if they fail to do so. Striking workers would lose their protection from unfair dismissal if work notices state that they should be working, provided that their employer has given them notice ahead of the strike day.
The FBU general secretary declared that his union would “fiercely resist this onslaught on our democratic rights” but stressed: “It’s an attack on all workers. A mass movement of non-compliance can defeat this attack on working people by making the legislation unworkable.
“The TUC can lead this movement of resistance, first by calling an emergency congress, followed by a national demonstration and a sustained campaign of non-cooperation.”
Speaking during the bill’s third reading, business minister Kevin Hollinrake claimed that the measures set out in the bill were “proportionate” and “sensible”, adding: “We need to maintain a reasonable balance between the ability of workers to strike and the ability to keep the lives and livelihoods of the British public safe.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner urged MPs to join Labour in voting down the bill “for the sake of freedom, fairness and feasibility”, denouncing the legislation as an “attack on our basic British freedoms”.
Wrack said today: “The government is attempting to ban effective strikes and giving employers the power to sack workers who do not comply with this legislation. However, a unified strategy of mass resistance can make this law inoperable and stop it dead in its tracks.”
The FBU’s governing executive council has passed a resolution urging the TUC to adopt the strategy the union has set out and “build a mass movement to resist the legislation”. Wrack said the strategy of non-compliance is needed, arguing that there is “no obvious route to challenge this attack through the courts”.
TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “The government’s strikes bill is a spiteful attack on the right to strike – a fundamental British liberty. The bill is unworkable and almost certainly in breach of international law.
“If this nasty legislation gets on to the statute book, the TUC will fight it all the way, including through the courts. And we won’t rest until this bill has been repealed.
“Government and employers should be clear. The TUC and our unions will not stand by and let any worker be sacked for exercising their fundamental right to strike and for defending their pay and conditions.”
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