New 'anti-strike' law introduced as Shapps seeks to curb industrial action

Wed 11 Jan 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Woman striker at picket line with sign

The government has unveiled a new bill containing curbs to strike action as Britain faces a growing number of industrial disputes.

According to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the legislation will enforce a ‘basic’ level of service from different sectors if workers choose to strike.

Secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, Grant Shapps, said that currently some striking workers, such as nurses, were willing to guarantee a national level of service, while others, such as ambulance unions were not, reports the Guardian.

He said: “The first job of any government is to keep the public safe. Because while we absolutely believe in the ability to strike, we are duty-bound to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people.”

Minimum levels

Under the proposed legislation, unions representing key workers will have to agree to minimum levels of safety and service when their members go on strike.

The Trades Union Congress general secretary, Paul Nowak, has said the change in law would risk further strikes.

“Let’s be clear: if passed, this bill will prolong disputes and poison industrial relations – leading to more frequent strikes,” he said.

The government’s own impact assessment has suggested that the legislation could lead to “an increased frequency of strikes … and more adverse effects in the long-term” and notes a possible challenge from workers under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Labour says it would repeal the law if it wins the next election, reports ITV.

More action planned

The Guardian also reports that the TUC has announced a national ‘protect right to strike’ day on 1 February to mobilise opposition to the anti-strike bill.

The Times reports that individual unions have been considering coordinated action but are divided on the approach.

According to the BBC, laws requiring a minimum level of service during strikes had already been promised for public transport in the Conservative’s 2019 election manifesto and a bill was introduced in October.

The government is seeking to extend this requirement to five other areas - the NHS, education, fire and rescue, border security and nuclear decommissioning.

Talks ongoing

The introduction of the bill to parliament comes after crisis talks on Monday (9 January) between ministers and unions failed to resolve ongoing disputes with nurses, teachers and rail workers.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union, Aslef, told MPs on the Transport Select Committee today (11 January) that the two sides were “further away than when we started.”

Steve Montgomery, chair of the Rail Delivery Group (which represents the train companies), said he was more optimistic of a deal.

Strike action is planned this month by a number of unions:

  • RCN nurses are striking on 18-19 January
  • Ambulance workers are striking today in five areas of England, with another day of action on 23 January. Welsh ambulance workers are striking on 19 and 23 January
  • More than 40,000 RMT members working at Network Rail and 14 train operating companies will continue their walkouts this month
  • Another national teachers’ strike in Scotland is planned for January 10 and January 11. Regional teachers strikes are planned in Scotland from January 16 to 20 and 23 to 27, and from January 30 to February 6
  • Other public sector workers striking include bin workers in some areas, driving instructors, and Environment Agency maintenance staff
  • There are also strikes in the private sector, including the first ever Amazon strike in the UK on 25 January, with further dates to be announced.