Sunak and Shapps in rush to drive through anti-strike legislation

Tory MPs call for new union curbs as UK faces biggest wave of industrial action since 1989

8 Dec 2022| News

Based on the current plans for industrial action by postal & rail workers, NHS staff & civil servants, more than one million working days will be lost to strike action in December — the most in any month since July 1989.

Historically speaking, strike levels are still low, well below the numbers of days lost throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, but the current wave of strikes have hit the headlines.

In response, the Government appear to be speeding up their plans to introduce anti-strike legislation that was floated by Grant Shapps, then Transport Secretary, in the summer.

Some of these elements have already found their way onto the statute book: e.g opening up the possibility of employers using agency staff to ‘break’ strikes & an increase in the maximum penalties that can be incurred by unions supporting ‘unofficial’ industrial action.

In addition, the proposed Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill will force unions to agree minimum staffing levels during strikes, alongside employers – essentially making unions break their own strikes, as Mick Lynch of the RMT has pointed out.

In rushing through more anti-union legislation, the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is being encouraged by back benchers & Ministers who believe there is an appetite to ‘take on’ the trade union movement, in the wake of increased industrial militancy.

Further anti-union legislation may include the banning of strikes for the emergency services, an increase in thresholds that need to be met before strike action is taken & an longer strike “lead time” (the notice unions need to give before taking industrial action)

On the Government side, the impatience is palpable. Chris Loder, a Tory member of the transport select committee, said:

“There are questions about the deliverability of this legislation but if the government is going to do this they need to crack on.”

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.

For Unite, this is very clear. We will not be intimidated by anti-trade union attacks. If they put more hurdles in our way, then we will jump over them. We are ready industrially and financially. As general secretary of Unite I will continue to fight and win for workers”.

The TUC accused the Government of “attempting cheap political pot shots” over further threats to the right to strike. General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The right to strike is a fundamental British liberty. With inflation running at 11 per cent, Rishi Sunak wants to make it harder for working people to win better pay and conditions.

Public sector workers would love to be able to deliver minimum service levels. But 12 years of Conservative cuts and mismanagement have left our public services falling apart at the seams.

Rather than attempting cheap political pot shots, the government should be getting around the table and negotiating with unions about pay. So far, ministers have seemed more interested in sabotaging talks than trying to resolve disputes.”

Firefighters are one of the emergency services who may be hit by the ban on strikes for emergency services. FBU 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.

The Tories are badly misjudging the public mood with these attacks on the pay and conditions of key workers, who kept Britain going during the pandemic. Any attempt to limit the right to strike will be fiercely resisted by the Fire Brigades Union.”