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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

UK Employers can sue Unions for inadequate fire, ambulance and rail services

Unions could be sued if they fail to provide minimum levels of fire, ambulance and rail services under planned anti-strike laws.

Voluntary agreements would cover other sectors including health, education, other transport services, border security and nuclear decommissioning.

The measures will not solve the current wave of strikes.

Unions have condemned the restrictions and threatened legal action, while Labor says it will scrap them.

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Business Secretary Grant Shapps said the measures were being put in place to “restore the balance between those who want to strike and protect the public from undue disruption”.

He said the legislation would be introduced soon, in the current session of Parliament.

The Business Department also called on unions to call off upcoming strikes in an effort to resolve current disputes “constructively through dialogue”.

It said it would invite unions to meet for “honest, constructive conversations” about what was “fair and affordable” in the 2023/24 public sector pay equalization.

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However, a number of unions question their continued involvement in the independent pay review process.

Gary Smith, general secretary of the GMB, said: “There are big questions about the NHS Pay Review Body as the actions of ministers consistently undermine its independence. The process needs real reform.”

“Poor quality obstacles”

Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner called the minimum service proposals “unworkable and frivolous dead end”.

“At every stage the government has tried to scuttle talks and throw in last-minute spanners. Now the prime minister is wasting time with shoddy roadblocks that even his own transport minister admits won’t work,” she said.

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Ministers said they would consult and then set an “appropriate level of coverage” for fire and rescue services and rail. For other sectors, the government says it expects to be able to reach voluntary agreements.

A wave of industrial action is hitting sectors from healthcare and the postal service to driving tests as people push for pay rises to keep up with the rapidly rising cost of living.

Rail workers in the RMT and other unions have been involved in a series of large-scale strikes over more than six months, with Thursday the sixth day of action by members of Aslef, which represents most train drivers, since last summer.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak condemned the proposed law as “wrong, unworkable and almost certainly illegal”.

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“This is an attack on the right to strike. It’s an attack on working people and it’s an attack on one of our long-standing British freedoms.”

“This government has gone from applauding key workers to threatening to fire them if they take legal action for a pay rise. This will only push more people out of essential public service jobs,” he added.

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Pat Cullen said: “Safe staffing levels as set out in the law is what we want to see all year round, not just in these extreme circumstances.

“We have long campaigned for governments to be held accountable for safe and effective staffing levels in the NHS and social care to prevent one nurse being left with 15, 20 or even 25 sick patients… Today’s highly dangerous situation is , what drives our members. to say ‘enough is enough’.”

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Earlier Mick Whelan, Aslef general secretary, said he did not think the new legislation would make life more difficult for his union.

He suggested that this would lead to unions having to organize more strikes locally rather than nationally.

Mr Whelan said: “There have been minimum service levels in European countries for a number of years. They have never been enacted because they don’t work.”

He added that employers can now fire workers if they strike for more than six weeks.

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Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said the UK already had some of the toughest anti-union laws in the western world.

He accused the Conservatives of being “clearly determined to criminalize and persecute unions with this threatened attack on the right to strike”.

“The Tories are misjudging public sentiment with these attacks on the pay and conditions of key workers who have kept Britain running during the pandemic,” he added.

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