The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has accused Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government of keeping “MPs in the dark” over the scope of its new anti-strikes legislation. It comes as the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill returns to parliament on Monday 30 January for its third reading. If the bill becomes law, it will give ministers sweeping new powers to restrict the right to strike.
TUC: workers vs the government
According to a press release, the TUC:
has launched a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to discover why the government published the Bill without a required impact assessment. Previous government advice – published in the Autumn – warned that minimum service levels in transport could poison industrial relations and lead to more frequent industrial action. Despite this warning, the Conservatives are now proposing to extend minimum service levels to a range of other sectors including – health, education, fire, border security and nuclear decommissioning.
Earlier this month the Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC) – a government-appointed body – criticised ministers for failing to provide MPs with an impact assessment on its new Minimum Service Levels Bill.
The RPC said:
Government departments are expected to submit impact assessments to the RPC before the relevant bill is laid before Parliament and in time for the RPC to issue an opinion alongside the publication of the impact assessment.
An impact assessment for this Bill has not yet been submitted for RPC scrutiny; nor has one been published despite the Bill being currently considered by Parliament.
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According to the TUC:
If passed, the Minimum Service Levels Bill will mean that when workers democratically and lawfully vote to strike they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply. The TUC is calling on MPs of all parties to reject this spiteful legislation, which it says is “shortcutting” normal scrutiny procedures and being “steamrollered” through parliament without proper consultation and scrutiny.
The bill gives ministers power to impose new minimum service levels through regulation. But consultations on how these regulations will work have not been published, and parliamentarians have been given few details on how minimum service levels are intended to operate.
The organisation adds that the new law will “do nothing” to solve the current disputes across the public sector, and “only make matters worse”. It’s general secretary Paul Nowak said:
The government is trying to keep MPs in the dark about the draconian nature of this Bill. But make no mistake – this legislation will give ministers sweeping new powers to restrict the right to strike.
The government must not be allowed to duck scrutiny. This spiteful legislation would mean that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply. The Minimum Service Levels Bill is undemocratic, unworkable and almost certainly illegal. And crucially it will likely poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes rather than help resolve them.
It is shameful that parliamentarians are being forced to vote blindly on such far-reaching new laws. We urge MPs from all parties to vote against this nasty Bill.
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The government is investing far more time and energy in steamrollering this Bill through parliament than it is on resolving disputes. Instead of scheming up new ways to attack the right to strike, ministers should get pay rising across the economy – starting with a decent pay rise for public sector workers.
The staffing crisis blighting our public services will only get worse if the Conservatives continue to hold down wages in our schools, hospitals and crucial services.
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