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Anti-Strikes Bill In Parliament, Government Talks Fail To Avert Strikes, Conservative MP Suspended Over Lobbying

Unions are opposing the anti-strike legislation proposed by the government (Alamy)

4 min read

A controversial bill to ensure further minimum levels of public sector services during strike action will have its first reading in Parliament today.

The bill will see fire and ambulance services added to sectors subject to mandatory minimum service rules, and health services, education, border security and other transport services will be asked to take part in consultations with ministers to reach agreement around minimum provision levels.

However, the legislation is likely to face significant challenges when it goes to the House of Lords for scrutiny with long delays and a wave of amendments expected to be made. 

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

He told Sky News that while the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) had agreed to national minimum service levels during the last nurses’ strike, ambulance unions did not, resulting in a “regional postcode lottery” when providing emergency ambulances during industrial action.

“We need to make sure we don’t end up in a situation where people’s lives are at risk, while still respecting their right to strike,” Shapps said.

House of Commons chamber
The controversial strikes legislation is likely to face significant challenges passing through Parliament (Alamy)

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”.

He said: “The government is effectively saying to a nurse that if you exercise your right to industrial action then they are going to sack you.”

Ashworth argued that getting people back to work should be a government focus in order to address falling living standards and grow the economy. 

Government talks with unions fail to avert widespread strike action

Strikes across multiple sectors will go ahead in the coming months as talks between unions and government departments yesterday failed to achieve any progress on pay negotiations. 

Ambulance workers are set to walk out on Wednesday, while nurses are still planning for strikes on 18 and 19 January. 

After one of the meetings, a union boss claimed that Health Secretary Steve Barclay said NHS workers should “work harder” if they want a pay rise after it was suggested that government would only compromise on pay if unions would agree to "productivity savings".

Unite’s Onay Kasab said Barclay’s comments were “an insult” and that “people are working well beyond their contracted hours anyway”.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps reiterated on Tuesday morning that the government was taking advice from an independent pay review but that unions would not accept it. 

“The unions need to present evidence as to why that is not correct and they have not accepted it,” he insisted on Sky News.

The i reported that ministers are now considering backdating next year’s NHS pay deal to this January in order to appease unions and potentially avert strike action by nurses later this month.  

The suggestion was made by union leaders at Monday’s talks, and the health secretary has agreed to look into it further.

Barclay has also pledged £50m to pay for temporary buildings and hotels to create more space for patients out of overcrowded hospitals, 

These proposals have been criticised by health experts who say this could lead to patients receiving inadequate care, and The Times has highlighted that NHS patients could be treated in cabins set up in hospital car parks. 

Conservative MP suspended for breaching lobbying rules

MP Andrew Bridgen
Andrew Bridgen has been MP for North West Leicestershire since 2010 (Alamy)

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen has been suspended from the House of Commons for breaking lobby rules.

An investigation found he was paid £12,000 as an adviser to Cheshire reforestation company Mere Plantations and that he had lobbied ministers and public officials on their behalf while failing to declare his interest in the company.

When being investigated over this allegation, Bridgen sent an email to Kathryn Stone, who is leading the investigation, that suggested she could be persuaded to rule against him by being granted a peerage.  

Bridgen has been MP for North West Leicestershire since 2010 and will be suspended for five days from Tuesday – two of which are for breaches of advocacy rules and three of which are for his comments to Stone.

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