Ministers plan “minimum service levels” for eight UK sectors under new anti-strike law

The UK government has announced new legislation enforcing “minimum service levels” in eight sectors, including healthcare, in a bid to deal with a nationwide wave of strikes.

Unions representing workers in various sectors – from nurses and paramedics to train drivers – have staged strikes to protest real wage cuts at a time of rising inflation.

Before Christmas, ministers presented legislation that would have imposed minimum levels in only one sector – the railways.

But on Thursday the government announced that this would be dwarfed by a new law that could force a certain proportion of employees to continue to come to work in different areas.

First, the government will enforce “minimum safety levels” for fire, ambulance and rail services after consultation, it said. That’s less draconian than in Canada, Australia and parts of the US, officials said. All these places prohibit strikes by “blue light” services.

Second, for other sectors covered by the bill — education, border security, nuclear decommissioning, other health services and other transport services — ministers hope to reach voluntary agreements on minimum security levels.

However, if voluntary agreements cannot be reached, the government will unilaterally set new thresholds.

“The government has a duty to the public to ensure their safety, protect their access to essential public services and help them go about their daily lives,” the government said. “Government will always protect the ability to strike, but it must be balanced with the public’s right to life and livelihood.”

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labor Party, said he would reverse the law if he won the next general election.

Firefighters Union general secretary Matt Wrack said the UK already has some of the most restrictive anti-union laws in the western world.

“The Tories are clearly keen to criminalize and harass unions with this threatened attack on the right to strike,” he said.

Meanwhile, ministers invited union leaders to “honest, constructive talks” and urged them to “return to the table and end the strikes” after a spate of industrial unrest.

They said they wanted to meet with union leaders to discuss what could be “fair and affordable” in public sector wage deals for the upcoming 2023-24 fiscal year. Ministers plan “minimum service levels” for eight UK sectors under new anti-strike law

Adam Bradshaw

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