The Tory Strikes Bill has passed but we won’t stop fighting – Kate Osborne MP


“The Tories are on a mission to take power away from the people. They’re not just turning the clock back on workers’ and trade union rights, but on the rights of the vast majority in this country.”

By Kate Osborne MP

What kind of society gives employers the right to demand workers to do work they don’t want to do or face the sack, and forces unions to make their members break their own strikes or face injunctions and fines and be liable for damages?

Only the most authoritarian of states would legislate to give a minister the power to crush the human rights of workers and the rights of their unions to protect their members.

Yet that is what this Government is doing, the Tories are on a mission to take power away from the people. They’re not just turning the clock back on workers’ and trade union rights, but on the rights of the vast majority in this country.

By rushing the [anti]-Strikes Bill through the House of Commons, with barely any scrutiny or assessment of the dangerous impact it will have, Grant Shapps has shown not only a reckless disregard for parliamentary process, but also for the consequences.

I voted against this legislation last night – but the Government forced it through, it will now be debated in the lords and I’m sure defeated in the courts – when the unions take legal action to protect their and all of our rights.

This inflammatory rhetoric from the government does nothing to help workers who are desperate for a pay rise – with the New York Times front page explaining that 28 per cent of workers in the UK can’t afford to feed their children. Nurses, firefighters, teachers and many others are reliant on food banks, yet the Tories deny there’s a problem, instead blaming nurses for poor budgeting skills, while continuing to make choices that push more people into poverty.

The Tories are intent on trashing what few freedoms paramedics, nurses, physiotherapists, teachers, transport workers, university staff, civil servants and all those other workers who will be on the picket lines over coming days and weeks, including on today’s protect the right to strike day, have.

Shapps claims this Bill is needed to provide minimum service levels and stop strikes inconveniencing the public. I’ve lost count of the times I haven’t been able to get a train to Newcastle, not because of strikes but because of poorly performing profit mongering train companies. There are no minimum service levels most days in the NHS with waiting times way above any targets – none of which is the fault of the hardworking NHS staff.

Minimum service levels would exist if this government hadn’t asset stripped, underfunded and privatised our core services over decades.

Minimum service levels on strike days do already exist of course. Our NHS teams ensure priority calls are dealt with, teachers ensure pupils with Special Educational Needs are catered for. Firefighters will always attend emergencies.

Yet the minister persists in lying and claiming otherwise. It’s a pity that MSLs don’t apply to his government, every day.

Shapps talks about strikes not having public support – I don’t know which ‘public’ he has in mind, because the public I know are either on strike, balloting to strike, or supporting the strikes.

TUC polling shows 53 per cent of parents support teachers walking out for better pay. I know of families whose evening entertainment has been sitting at their kitchen tables making badges and placards to hold at the school gates.

The Government is trying to force a narrative that the public aren’t supporting the workers – yet poll after poll shows they are, from Nurses to teachers, firefighters to rail staff – they all have the public support.

People understand their teachers don’t want to be on strike, that they want to be in the classroom, but that the crisis of recruitment and retention in schools is failing our young people.

Just as the more than three-in-five patients who support NHS workers striking know it’s not the strikes putting patient safety at risk.

They get that people aren’t dying in the back of ambulances because paramedics have walked out.

They understand that the NHS is on its knees, with underpaid, exhausted and broken workers leaving in their droves after over a decade of Tory cuts.

The destruction of the NHS is leading to so many avoidable deaths. We have to start calling it what it is – social murder – people are dying because of this government’s deliberate destruction of our NHS.

My constituents have been in touch over the last few weeks to express how angry and disappointed they are with the government’s handling of disputes. They want the government to negotiate, not legislate.

Instead of negotiations they are attacking workers even more – every day showing the contempt in which the Tories hold working people. With rising inflation – food costs now up by 16 per cent and 39 per cent of kids in my constituency of Jarrow in poverty – I worry about what comes next if workers do not get a pay rise. And that is why so many are saying enough is enough. Workers need a pay rise not a P45.

Enabling employers to sack people who don’t comply with an undefined minimum service level work notice, without any right of recourse to law, is not just an affront to their workers’ rights, but it will cripple services already on their knees because of the staffing crises.

Of course the Tories know this legislation is not workable. It will be held up in the Lords, and in the courts. But the government only cares about attention grabbing headlines – and about moving the Overton window so the people of this country will accept more and more restrictions on their rights.

Right to strike, right to protest, right to vote, and chunks of human rights laws scrapped with the Retained EU Law Bill. As I said in parliament during the second reading of the Bill, each of these power grabs commit political violence on our communities.

This government needs to accept the reason so many workers in so many sectors are saying enough is enough and taking industrial action is because of its failures.

Instead of inflaming the situation the government should start dealing with the causes of increased strike action: low wages, people in fuel and food poverty and cuts to public services.

But of course ministers don’t care about working people or about our communities struggling to survive. Instead it’s railroading an authoritarian, unworkable and potentially criminal piece of legislation that has no place in a so-called democratic country.

  • Kate Osborne is the MP for Jarrow and a regular contributor to Labour Outlook. You can follow her on Facebook, twitter and Instagram.
Featured image: Nurses strike in December ’22. Photo credit Labour Outlook Archive

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