Strike Rights Under Threat: MPs Choose Bosses Over Workers’ Well-being
In a crucial vote on the Lords’ amendments to the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, Members of Parliament have given their backing to controversial legislation that aims to grant employers and ministers the authority to dismiss workers who refuse to cross their own picket lines and ensure a yet-to-be-defined minimum service level during strikes in various sectors, including transport and education.
The Bill faced fierce opposition from peers in the House of Lords, who successfully passed multiple amendments aimed at protecting workers. One key amendment removed the threat of dismissal for those refusing a “work order,” while another restricted the provisions to England only, after ministers in Wales and Scotland, representing the Labour and SNP parties respectively, condemned the bill. However, the government has rejected these amendments, raising concerns about its intentions.
Of particular concern is the rejection of amendments that would safeguard employees such as nurses from being sacked for participating in lawful strike action.
Despite the efforts of trade unions, who organised an emergency protest outside parliament on Monday night, urging the government to abandon the bill and uphold workers’ right to strike, MPs chose to dismiss the voices of those fighting for their our rights.
The amendments included changing the application of the bill from the UK to England only, excluding Scotland and Wales; ensuring a worker would not be dismissed for not complying with a work notice; introducing the requirement for a consultation to be carried out and reviewed before the Government could set minimum service levels; and ensuring there were no legal consequences for unions that induce workers who have been identified on a work notice to go on strike.
On each of these motions, the Government’s position to ‘disagree’ won by 50-60 votes. The one exception was an amendment to the effect that, when deciding whether to identify a person in a work notice, an employer cannot consider whether the person “has or has not” taken part in trade union activities, made use of their services or had a trade union raise issues on their behalf. That was accepted by the Government ahead of a vote.
The government rejected several amendments to its controversial anti-strikes bill, the vote Disagree (Ayes) 288 agree (Noes) 227.
Labour MPs’ Disappoint.
These Labour MPs did not vote.
What’s more in a disappointing turn of events, thirty-three Labour MPs, including the party leader Sir Keir Starmer, refused to vote against the anti-union bill.
This betrayal of workers’ interests raises questions about the commitment of these MPs to the principles of the Labour movement. Notably, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed his opposition to the bill, emphasising the importance of defending the right to strike and highlighting the need for fair wages and public service preservation.
If the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill becomes law, ministers will gain the authority to impose new minimum service levels during industrial action. Employers will be able to issue notices to employees who have voted to strike, requiring them to work instead, in order to maintain these minimum service levels. This grants an alarming amount of power to employers, undermining workers’ ability to advocate for better working conditions and fair treatment.
We will see a time when employers will be able to provide notices to employees who have voted to strike that they need to work instead in order to maintain these minimum service levels.
This means that nurses who have otherwise democratically and lawfully voted to strike could be forced to work, with those who breach work notices at risk of being sacked.
The House of Lords had previously tabled a series of amendments which sought to protect workers from the threat of dismissal under the legislation, but they were this week rejected by the House of Commons.
The bill’s proponents argue that it is necessary to ensure essential services are not unduly disrupted during strikes. However, opponents argue that the legislation is a distraction from the real issues at hand, such as the need for fair pay for nursing staff and the underlying causes that prompt strikes in the first place.
Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said the Tories had “declared war on firefighters, nurses, teachers, rail workers, paramedics and other workers, by forcing through Parliament this latest attack on our rights.
“It’s outrageous that the government has ridden roughshod over the opposition by these key workers, who took to the streets outside Parliament to protect their right to strike in defence of jobs and wages.”
He warned that the vote is “not the end of the fight against this authoritarian and undemocratic assault on employment rights: far from it.
“A mass campaign of opposition and defiance can make this law unworkable and ultimately defeat it.”
In a fiery speech met with applause and cheers at Monday night’s rally, rail union RMT head Mick Lynch said: “We will not allow our members to be dismissed.
“We will not obey work notices. We will defy this law, and if it comes in, the TUC and every worker in this country has got to unleash a mass campaign of workplace disobedience and defiance.”
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