Ministers move to bring in minimum service levels during strikes

Postal workers on strike in Brighton.
Royal Mail workers striking outside Brighton Delivery Office on Thursday. Credit: PA

The government is pressing ahead with legal moves to introduce minimum service levels during strikes by transport workers.

It follows months of industrial action by railway workers in bitter disputes over pay, jobs and conditions, which triggered travel chaos across the country.

Thursday marks one of the biggest strikes of the year will be held on Thursday when Royal Mail workers, BT staff and Openreach engineers walk out in separate disputes over pay and conditions.Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are embroiled in a pay row with the Royal Mail, which threatened to cut 10,000 jobs following industrial action last week.

Railway workers, council employees, barristers, lecturers and dockers are among other union members to have taken industrial action this year, with other groups of workers, including NHS staff and teachers, being balloted for strikes.Unions have criticised the government's move, with many believing it would be unworkable.

Ministers said the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill would mean that even during the most disruptive of strikes, a certain level of services will still run.

Economists have assessed that the first wave of rail strikes in June cost the UK economy nearly £100 million, according to the government.

Prime Minister Liz Truss said: “Hardworking people and businesses should not be held to ransom by strike action which has repeatedly crippled our transport network this year.

“This legislation delivers on our 2019 manifesto and will not only limit the unions’ ability to paralyse our economy, but will ensure passengers across the country can rightly continue to get to work, school or hospital.”

Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “Strikes have affected nearly all of us over this last year - whether that means losing out on a day’s pay at work, having to close your business, missing vital medical appointments or stopping our children from getting to school.

“It is vital that public transport users have some continuity of service to keep Britain moving and growing. This legislation will give everyone the certainty they need to carry on with their daily lives.”

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The legislation will mean a minimum service level must be in place during transport strikes.

If this is not delivered the unions will lose legal protections from damages.

Employers will specify the workforce required to meet an “adequate” service level during strikes, and unions will have to take reasonable steps to ensure an appropriate number of specified workers still work on strike days.

Under the legislation, “specified” workers who still take strike action will lose their protection from automatic unfair dismissal.

The Bill will undertake its first reading on Thursday and the legislation is expected to come into force on transport services across the country in 2023.

Mick Whelan (far right) believes the bill would prolong disputes between unions and employers. Credit: PA

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers union Aslef, said the prime minister doesn’t understand the way the railway works.

“The train companies don’t want to run minimum service levels because they know it’s a stupid idea. What happens when 100% of passengers try to get on 40% minimum service level trains?

“It will look like Japan where they cram people in like cattle, and the rolling stock will, next day, be in the wrong place, which will mess up the normal timetable.

“The government claims that similar legislation exists in other European countries, such as Germany, France, and Spain. Yes, it does, but what the government doesn’t know - or doesn’t choose to say - is that it is not enforced. Because they know it doesn’t work.

“The lack of full establishments - most of the companies don’t have enough drivers to run the services they promise passengers they will provide - will be another problem.”

Mr Whelan said he believed the legislation would lead to industrial strife lasting longer.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This cynical piece of legislation outlaws effective legal industrial action on our railways.

“It is an autocratic move from an increasingly despotic prime minister trying to cling on to her fledging premiership.

“All democrats whether inside or outside parliament must oppose this draconian attempt to clamp down on the fundamental human right to strike.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA

“RMT and the entire trade union movement will not accept unjust anti union laws and I call upon all workers in Britain to mount the fiercest civil resistance possible, in the proud traditions of the chartists and suffragettes.”

Louise Haigh, shadow transport secretary, said: “This prime minister crashed the economy and hiked up mortgage rates for millions of working people, and now she is attempting to undermine their right to negotiate better pay and conditions.

“These unworkable plans are desperate attempt from the Tories to distract from the chaos engulfing their government.”

“Instead of attacking working people, ministers should finally do the job of a responsible government, get around the table and find a resolution to this dispute.”