The TUC has urged Tory MPs to “do the right thing” and oppose the government’s minimum service levels bill, with general secretary Paul Nowak arguing that the legislation will “poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes”.
The bill – which would see minimum service levels enforced during strikes in certain areas of the public sector – will return to parliament today for its final stages, during which MPs will consider amendments put forward by the Lords.
According to the TUC, the right to strike of one in five workers in Britain is at risk because of the bill. The union body claimed that as many as 5.5 million workers in England, Scotland and Wales could be affected by the legislation.
Nowak said: “Today, Conservative MPs must do the right thing and oppose government plans to sack frontline workers for exercising their right to strike.
“No one should be sacked for trying to win a better deal at work. But this draconian legislation would mean that when workers democratically vote to strike, they could be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply.
“It’s undemocratic, unworkable and, if it gets onto the statute book, very likely unlawful. And it will poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes rather than help resolve them. It’s no surprise that politicians, employers and rights groups are queuing to condemn this spiteful bill.
“Rishi Sunak’s answer to the cost-of-living crisis is making it harder for workers to win a pay rise at work. It’s time for an urgent rethink. Ministers must step back from the brink, ditch this draconian bill for good and protect the right to strike.”
The legislation proposes to give the Business Secretary the power to set minimum service levels during strikes in certain parts of the public sector, with employers instructing unions via ‘work notices’ how many workers will be required on strikes days to meet that level.
The bill would apply to six sectors: health, education, fire rescue, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning. Under the law, unions would be required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure members comply with the work notice and could be sued if they fail to do so.
Striking workers would lose their protection from unfair dismissal if the work notice states that they should be working, provided that their employer has given them notice ahead of the strike day.
Concerns have been raised by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission about the proposal for striking workers to lose their protection from unfair dismissal, while parliament’s joint committee on human rights concluded that ministers have not “adequately” made the case that the bill “meets the UK’s human rights obligations”.
The bill passed its third reading in the Commons in January unamended, with MPs voting in favour of the legislation by 315 votes to 246. During the debate, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner denounced the legislation as an “attack on our basic British freedoms” and urged MPs to join Labour in voting it down.
Business minister Kevin Hollinrake argued 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.”
But the government faced a series of defeats in the Lord on the legislation, with peers putting forward several amendments, including limiting the law’s application to England and retaining protection from unfair dismissal for workers who fail to comply with work notices.
The TUC is holding a rally against the bill in Parliament Square today, between 6pm and 7:45pm. Speakers include Nowak and RMT general secretary Mick Lynch.