Paul Nowak: The Tories are today back doing what they enjoy most: Attacking unions

Let’s be clear. These Conservative anti-strike laws are a dog’s dinner – they’re shambolic and unworkable and will frustrate employers, workers and unions alike.

Paul Nowak is the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress

MPs are to consider further draconian restrictions on the right to strike in the form of compulsory minimum service levels during strike action in ambulance service, rail and the border force.

Also in front of the House of Commons is a code of practice that seeks to force unions to act as the employer’s policeman.

In their rush to attack unions, ministers are even attempting to sneak in further anti-union restrictions, including absurd rules on picketing.

Let’s be clear. These Conservative anti-strike laws are a dog’s dinner – they’re shambolic and unworkable and will frustrate employers, workers and unions alike.

Rather than dealing with the problems working people face, the government is trying to tie unions up in more red tape.

And these new laws will stoke tensions between employers and workers, poison industrial relations and drag out disputes.

Regulations for minimum service levels have now been laid in rail, the ambulance service and border security. Ministers are also consulting on rules affecting workers in hospital settings, schools, universities and fire services.

The government has said regulations for the pernicious Strikes Act will be rushed into force by the end of the year.

A massive 1 in 5 workers in Britain – or 5.5 million workers – are at risk of losing their right to strike.

It is already harder for working people here to take strike action than in any other western European country. Now, the Tories want to make it even harder for people to win fair pay and conditions.

These new anti-strike laws mean that individual workers will be forced by employers to turn up to work on strike days by naming them on work notices.

If a worker fails to comply, they lose their protection against unfair dismissal.

If a union fails to force those named members to break the strike, they will face severe financial penalties.

The Strikes Act is unworkable, undemocratic and likely in breach of international law.

Meanwhile, ministers are now also trying to overturn the ban on the use of agency workers to break strikes, despite the high court already finding this unlawful and the government’s own impact assessment saying it would ‘poison industrial relations’ and ‘prolong strikes’.

The irony is that many public sector workers say they are not able to deliver safe staffing levels on any day because of years of Tory underfunding, a recruitment and retention crisis and fragmented, privatised supply chains.

In fact, hospital trust leaders have even warned that minimum service levels could harm patient care – as well as poisoning industrial relations and proving costly to administer.

But the Strikes Act is not about making life easier for the public.

It’s this government’s desperate attempt to distract from its dire economic record and blame workers for trying to get a decent wage and better conditions. Unemployment is up, NHS waiting times are up, bills are sky high and all ministers can do is deny and distract.

But the public will not be fooled. And workers’ anger will not just be legislated away.

The only way to resolve disputes is through discussion and negotiation. Knee-jerk anti-union laws don’t work – and unions will challenge them at every turn. 

That’s why next month, the TUC will hold a special Congress, our first in over 40 years.

We will hear from workers in sectors affected by the legislation and discuss the next steps in our campaign against these attacks on our right to strike.

Unions will continue to fight the Strikes Act at every stage and will not rest until these poisonous reforms are defeated and fully repealed.

We will defend the right to strike.

And we will defend every worker who exercises that right.

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