Ever since anti-strike laws concerning minimum service levels were put before Parliament, the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 (SMSLA) has been a contentious topic. After receiving the Royal Assent earlier this year, the government plans to implement regulations before Christmas.
They believe vital services must maintain a certain level of service during strikes to keep the public safe. Moreover, they want to ensure many disruptions don’t ruin the public’s Christmas.
However, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) believe these new laws breach a person’s right to strike. As such, they’re planning a rare special congress to determine how they will proceed to campaign against the anti-strike laws.
Therefore, we begin by recapping what the new legislation actually is. Then, we discuss the proposals the government are set to put in place before Christmas to minimise strike action disruptions. Finally, we explore the special congress the TUC plans to hold next month to tackle their issues with the legislation.
What are the Anti-Strike Laws?
Back in January this year, parliament were introduced to the proposed anti-strike laws. The SMSLA then received the Royal Assent on 20 July 2023. This legislation enables the government to establish minimum service levels in ‘relevant services’, like health, education and transport services.
The SMSLA will allow employers to inform unions and employees via work notices of those required to work through strikes. I.E., the number of employees needed to maintain the minimum service level required by law. If union members fail to comply with work notices, the unions could be liable for claims of up to £1 million.
Although the SMSLA has been enacted this year, immediate strike regulation hasn’t been seen. This is because the SMSLA allows strike regulation in ‘relevant services’, but secondary legislation is required to implement them within a service specifically.
The legislation has been created to minimise the impact of strike action on the services the public relies on. However, the TUC has been fighting against these new laws, stating it goes against an individual’s right to strike.
Government’s Strike Plans Ahead of Christmas
The government aim to enact secondary legislation before Christmas to establish minimum service levels in the transport, health and border security services. They’ve also said similar regulations will be brought into education services if voluntary arrangements aren’t agreed upon.
Concerning rail services, the government has said they must run 40% of their usual timetable during strike action. Furthermore, life-threatening ambulance services must continue during strikes and border force staff must maintain their effectiveness during action.
Discussing the anti-strike laws, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reasoned that such legislation would prevent unions from “de-railing Christmas for millions of people”. He added the legislation would bring the country in line with other countries and keep people safe, delivering the services the public relies on.
Additionally, the government has planned consultations to discuss removing regulations that prevent employers from utilising agency cover during strike action. However, this follows the High Court ruling it unlawful for agency workers to cover staff on strike earlier this year. The TUC’s general secretary, Paul Nowak, added that agencies don’t want to be “political pawns during strikes”.
Furthermore, Neil Carberry, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation’s chief executive, let his thoughts be known online:
TUC’s Anti-Strike Laws Campaign Progresses
The TUC has opposed the anti-strike laws since they were first suggested, calling these Christmas plans an “unprecedented attack on the right to strike”. As such, the TUC has organised their first special congress since 1982 on 9 December 2023. This is the first time they will hold a special congress since they fought Margaret Thatcher’s anti-union legislation.
The TUC’s announcement explains the new legislation could mean workers are forced to work and are sacked if they don’t, even if they lawfully vote to strike. Furthermore, they explained that 5.5 million British workers, equivalent to one in five, could lose their right to strike.
Therefore, the TUC’s general secretary said the Christmas plans were “unworkable, undemocratic and almost certainly in breach of international law”. Because of this, they have planned this special congress to discuss their future campaigns against the anti-strike laws. Ultimately, they explain their goal is to ensure these new laws are repealed and won’t stop until this occurs.
If the government prevail with their plans, public services may run with less disruption but at the cost of striking rights. Conversely, despite the recent enactment of the SMSLA, the current rights may remain unchanged if the TUC succeed with their goals. Whatever happens, events in the coming months will be vital in determining an individual’s right to strike.
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