TRADE UNION BILL: Government backs down on ancillary workers in public services

21 January 2016 The government has vowed to remove its broad reference to ancillary workers involved in the provision of public services in the Trade Union Bill as part of its response to a consultation on its proposals to limit strike action in "important public services", which was released today. Instead, it has published a more definitive list of which services will be included.

21 Jan 2016

21 January 2016

The government has vowed to remove its broad reference to ancillary workers involved in the provision of public services in the Trade Union Bill as part of its response to a consultation on its proposals to limit strike action in “important public services”, which was released today. Instead, it has published a more definitive list of which services will be included.

While this move narrows the 40% ballot threshold, it was also confirmed that private sector workers will still be caught in the “important public services” net; and it is clear the Bill will still have a devastating impact on the right to strike, once again falling outside the standards set down in international law.

The government’s response comes after the Trade Union Bill has passed through the House of Commons, and following its second reading in the House of Lords. The government is still to respond to its consultation on hiring agency staff as strike breakers, which closed on 09 September 2015.

Clause 3 of the Trade Union Bill currently states that strike ballots in “important public services” (currently listed as fire, healthcare, education, transport, border forces and nuclear decommissioning) must achieve the support of 40% of all workers eligible to vote (as well as securing a 50% turnout). The government will not, however, provide a more convenient way for members to vote than the postal ballot.

In its response, the government noted that a minority of respondents agreed with its list of “important” public services. Overall, the only definitions of the term “important public services” that secured majority support were those that protect against loss of life and serious injury (54%) and those that maintain public safety and national security (51%). Other factors suggested by the government, including enabling movement of significant numbers of people and enabling economic activity across a significant area of the economy were supported by a minority (31% and 30% respectively).

Despite these trends, the government rejected the International Labour Organization (ILO)’s definition of “essential public services” as those the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population. Services the 40% threshold will affect, are:

  • Firefighters, firefighter managers and control centre staff and managers who coordinate the response
  • Doctors, nurses and other workers in the ambulance services, maternity services, A&E services, intensive care and high dependency unit services – including where these services are publicly funded and provided in private hospitals.
  • Teachers in state schools who teach children aged 5-16 and headteachers and Academy Principals of pupils aged 5-16 in state-funded schools
  • London bus drivers, emergency and control room staff
  • Train drivers, conductors, guards, safety staff, signalling and electrical control staff
  • Licensed civil air traffic controllers
  • Airport workers who are directly involved in the operation and application of airport security
  • Port security services conducted by a port in accordance with the requirements of the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code
  • Designated staff at the border who implement entry and exit checks, staff undertaking intelligence and targeting functions (eg national security and customs alerts or referrals)
  • Nuclear decommissioning services will be specified at a later date, and proposed regulations will be subject to the affirmative procedure and further parliamentary scrutiny

Proposed amendments made in the House of Lords include changing the definition of “important” public services to “essential”, and some peers oppose the inclusion of Clause 3 altogether. Read more about the Lords’ amendments here.

Read the government’s full response here

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