“Transport services” included in UK Government bill designed to curtail strikes

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The UK Government yesterday introduced legislation to “ensure that striking workers don’t put the public’s lives at risk and prevent people getting to work, accessing healthcare, and safely going about their daily lives." Named as the “Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill," the legislation concerns staff working in various sections of the economy under rather vague terms. An example of this is the use of the term “transport services", which could be used to refer to both passenger and goods transport. Therefore, the legislation could theoretically be utilised to limit the ability of lorry and van drivers to conduct strikes.

“Transport services” included in UK Government bill designed to curtail strikes
Photo: Timo Newton-Syms / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The bill essentially prevents blanket strikes in specific sectors of the economy from taking place by mandating a minimum level of service provision.

In its statement describing the legislation, the UK Government said that it would first consult on minimum service levels for fire, ambulance and rail services.

The Government added that it hopes “to not have to use these powers for other sectors included in the Bill, such as education, other transport services, border security, other health services and nuclear decommissioning.”

Those sectors of the economy are nonetheless all included in the bill, which concerns the following services:

  • health services;
  • fire and rescue services;
  • education services;
  • transport services;
  • decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel;
  • border security.

The full scope of the term “transport services” has not yet been specified. In its current form, the vagueness of the term in the legislation would allow the UK Government to include both goods and passenger transport. That in turn could mean lorry and van drivers being prevented from conducting all-out strikes in the event of an industrial dispute.

The UK Government said it expects “parties in these sectors to reach a sensible and voluntary agreement between each other on delivering a reasonable level of service when there is strike action.”

Commenting on the bill, Business Secretary Grant Shapps, who of course once served as Transport Secretary, said:

“The first job of any government is to keep the public safe. Because whilst we absolutely believe in the ability to strike, we are duty-bound to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people. I am introducing a bill that will give government the power to ensure that vital public services will have to maintain a basic function, by delivering minimum safety levels ensuring that lives and livelihoods are not lost. We do not want to have to use this legislation unless we have to, but we must ensure the safety of the British public.”

Defending its decision, the UK Government stressed that the principle is “already recognised in many countries across the world, such as Italy and Spain, where systems for applying minimum levels during strikes are in place for services the public depend on.” It also warned that unions will lose legal protection from damages if they do not comply with the obligations set for them within the legislation.

Trade Unions have predictably slammed the legislation.

Commenting on the news, Unite General Secretary, Sharon Graham, said:

“This Bill is another dangerous gimmick from a Government that should be negotiating to resolve the current crisis they have caused. Grant Shapps is, as usual, economical with the truth. He is taking the worst practices from other countries but not those that actually assist workers. The evidence from abroad clearly shows this kind of legislation only forces unions to use other tactics, inflaming and prolonging disputes. If he wants to import good practice from other countries I can give him a long list. He could start with banning fire and rehire, which can’t be done in countries like Ireland and Spain but is still legal in the UK.”

Gary Smith, GMB General Secretary, added:

“A Government that has presided over 13 years of failure in our public services is now seeking to scapegoat the NHS staff and ambulance workers who do so much to care for the people of our country. The NHS can only function with the goodwill of its incredible staff and attacking their fundamental right to take action will alienate them even further and do nothing to help patients and the public. We are always ready to discuss our members’ pay but the Government is refusing to talk about problems as they exist now, instead they want to kick the can down the road. There are huge questions over the NHS Pay Review Body, as Ministers’ actions have consistently undermined its independence. The process needs real reform and our members need a much stronger commitment than we heard today.”

Photo: Timo Newton-Syms / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

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