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Government Proposes "Blue Light" Minimum Services In New Anti-Strike Law

Business Secretary Grant Shapps introduced the bill in parliament (Alamy)

3 min read

Business secretary Grant Shapps has introduced a controversial new bill in Parliament to limit the effectiveness of strike action.

The bill will extend a minimum service law to five new areas including the NHS, education, fire and rescue, border security and nuclear decommissioning. A bill is already being debated on minimum services for transport strikes. 

The law would allow employers to set out the workforce they need, preventing employees on the list from being able to strike with protection from unfair dismissal.

Shapps introduced the bill in Parliament and insisted the government "will always defend their ability to withdraw their labour".

Emphasising the need to resolve the widespread industrial disputes that have plagued government this winter, Shapps said: "Whilst we absolutely believe in the right to strike we are dutybound to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people.

"We're introducing legislation focusing on blue light emergency services and delivering on our manifesto commitment to secure minimum services on the railways as well."

Consultations to determine the minimum levels will begin soon as MPs continue to debate the bill in Parliament. 

Labour has criticised the bill, with deputy leader Angela Rayner responding to Shapps' statement in the Commons.

She said: "The first thing that comes to mind is my constituent, who waited over an hour for an ambulance, who died waiting for an ambulance. And that was not on a strike day."

Rayner argued that the cost of living crisis has left public sector workers with no choice but to strike.

"The economic crisis made in Downing Street, with sky-high inflation, has left working people facing an economic emergency," she said.

"Nobody wants to see these strikes happen, least of all people who lose a day of pay." 

The Labour deputy accused the government of "playing politics and promising yet another sticking plaster", adding that the readout from the trade union representatives after government talks yesterday was "dismal", with no pay settlements agreed and strikes still set to go ahead.

A No 10 spokesperson said that the legislation aims to “act as a safety net to provide that minimum level of safety to the public”.

The legislation is likely to face challenges in the House of Lords and a legal challenge by unions once it is passed, so minimum service levels are unlikely to be immediately enforced.

Ahead of Shapps' statement, the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union general secretary Mick Lynch was dismissive of the bill. 

"This is an attack on human rights and civil liberties which we will oppose in the courts, Parliament and the workplace,” he said. 

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) general secretary, Paul Nowak, who has said unions would challenge the legislation in court, believes the law could risk further strikes and “poison industrial relations”.

“This legislation would mean that, when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply,” he said.

“That’s undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal. If passed, this bill will prolong disputes and poison industrial relations – leading to more frequent strikes.”

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News that he believes the legislation is “not workable” while the NHS is in a “desperate crisis”.

Defending the bill on Tuesday morning, Shapps said that similar legislation “works” in countries like France, Italy and Spain.

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