5 reasons why we all need to oppose the government’s anti-strike laws

Trade unions and human rights activists have called for a mass movement to oppose this latest piece of draconian legislation.

Two unite the union flags

The government thinks that the best way to tackle the cost of living crisis, amid the biggest fall in living standards on record, is to attack and undermine trade unions and hard-pressed workers struggling to make ends meet.

As part of this latest assault on workers rights, the Tories have put forward a new set of anti-strike laws contained in the Minimum Services Bill, which is undergoing its second reading today.

Trade unions and human rights activists have called for a mass movement to oppose this latest piece of draconian legislation.

Here are five reasons why we all need to oppose the anti-strike laws.

1.Workers who refuse to work during a strike can be sacked

As the TUC and other trade unions have pointed out, the bill – dubbed the “sack key workers bill” – would mean that when workers democratically and lawfully vote to strike in health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply.

The government has gone from clapping nurses during the pandemic to now wanting to sack them and other public sectors for going on strike.

The right to strike is a fundamental human right, yet the government seems determined to attack it.

2. We already have some of the most draconian anti-strike legislation in Europe

As a country, the UK already has some of the most draconian restrictions on the right to strike in Europe, and the government’s plans to restrict the right to strike even further is an attack on our democracy and fundamental human rights.

The government claims, falsely, that the latest legislation would bring us in line with other European countries. The irony of Tory Brexiteers screaming ‘Europe is right’.

Yet the government’s claims have already been rejected by the European Trade Union Confederation. It’s general secretary Esther Lynch, has said: “The UK already has among the most draconian restrictions on the right to strike in Europe. The UK government’s plans would push it even further away from normal, democratic practice across Europe.”

It’s also worth pointing out that Collective agreements, acting as a pay floor across a whole sector, cover 80% of employees in Spain, 82% in Denmark, 98% in France and 100% in Italy. In Britain they only cover 27% of employees.

3. The legislation will make strikes worse

The latest attack on workers rights could result in more strikes going ahead, causing further staff shortages and more disruption to the public as a result.

The government’s own impact assessment recently published by the Department for Transport, said that introducing the new requirements could increase the number of strike days as unions seek retribution, and encourage staff to take other disruptive action.

As Angela Rayner told the House of Commons recently: “The transport secretary admits it won’t work, the education secretary doesn’t want it, and his own government impact assessment finds it will lead to more strikes and staff shortages… If he’s scraping the barrel with comparisons of France and Spain, those countries with those laws… lose vastly more strike days than Britain…”

4. Trade unions could go bankrupt

Trade unions have won so many rights for workers, including annual leave, sick pay, a two day weekend, maternity leave to name but a few and without them working class people would be deprived of a means through which to fight for better pay and conditions.

At present, trade unions are afforded protection from legal action when their members go on strike. The Minimum Services Bill however will allow bosses to sue trade unions for any losses incurred during strike days, leaving trade unions exposed to legal action and hefty bills which could bankrupt them.

5. This bill is an attack on the rights of all workers

Although the government’s proposed legislation focuses on health services, fire and rescue services, education services, transport services, nuclear decommissioning, and border security, this latest piece of legislation is an attack on the rights of all workers.

The Minimum Services Bill should be viewed in its broader context of yet another attempt by the Tories to attack the rights of all workers, including key workers. The bill not only restricts the rights of individual workers but also of the collective trade union movement.

Basit Mahmood is the editor of Left Foot Forward

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