“This Bill represents an almighty attack on trade unions’ ability to organise and an attack on working people’s right to strike for better pay and conditions.”
By Beth Winter MP
In a Ministerial Statement on industrial action last Tuesday, I described the new Strikes Bill as a case of the Government proposing yet another authoritarian act that follows the Elections Bill and the Public Order Bill to enforce their attack on our living standards and to keep their grip on power.
The Business Secretary Grant Shapps set out the case for this Bill, he said it was about, “delivering minimum safety levels to ensure that lives and livelihoods are not lost.”
The Bill comes to Parliament today. And we heard – and we will keep hearing – a lot about ‘safety’, because the Government thinks it is the best way to claw their way back into the public debate.
They want to justify their own crackdown on democracy, in circumstances when ordinary pay demands are backed by the public and the Conservative Government is increasingly unpopular.
This Bill represents an almighty attack on trade unions’ ability to organise and an attack on working people’s right to strike for better pay and conditions.
I agree with Mick Lynch, of the RMT, who said,the law is, “a form of conscription,” that would in effect allow employers to choose how many striking employees they wanted to force to work.
We should be clear about what the Bill does not do.
It does not establish minimum service levels for strikes – these will follow in regulations, deprived of the proper scrutiny afforded to primary legislation. And it does not ensure the safety of the public in times of industrial action – it does not mention safety – unions in relevant sectors already do this, and it is unclear what a ‘safe’ level is meant to mean in, for example, education.
We can be very clear why it is happening now.
The Conservatives have spent twelve years creating a low-pay Britain. They have consciously cut peoples pay and cut living standards. Specifically, those of key workers they were so keen to clap.
Now trade unions are organising effectively to lift peoples pay, the Conservative Party is concerned they have lost control and they wish to restore it. If only they were as interested in maintaining minimum standards, minimum staffing and minimum safety levels on non-strike days.
But that would require a commitment to public services which they don’t possess. And it would require legal expectations on private employers to maintain service levels on non-strike days, which they are not proposing.
What the Bill does do is provide for employers to sack individuals for participating in legitimate industrial action with their colleagues to lift their pay and improve their conditions.
The Bill likewise provides for employers to sue unions for not ensuring that these individuals they represent work to break the strike, exposing them to the prospect of serious damages. And it will give enormous powers to the Secretary of State and to employers – taken from unions as part of an assault on the idea of social partnership.
There are many questions to ask in the Committee Stage of this Bill, should we fail to vote it down tonight.
In issuing a work notice, which unions must be consulted? Should all unions be consulted? Which occupations and service areas in an impacted sector will be affected? What qualifies as inducing a person to strike? What qualifies as reasonable steps to ensure compliance with a work notice?
None of this is set out. There has been no consultation and no impact assessment. This is an imposition designed to weaken trade unions.
Just as the 2016 Trade Union Act was, and the recent Trade Union Agency Worker Regulations were.
Wales and Westminster have different approaches. Whilst the UK Government is introducing the Strikes Bill, Welsh Government is introducing a Social Partnership Bill to promote cooperation and collaboration between Government and Trade Unions.
Welsh Government Counsel General, Mick Antoniw last week, said, “It is a fundamental attack on freedom, and as Welsh Government, we will give it no credence or support.”
I agree with him and that’s why I will be voting against this Bill tonight.