Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill Second Reading

On Monday 16 January 2023, the House of Commons debated the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill. If passed, the Bill would allow the Government to impose requirements for minimum service levels during strikes in six sectors: health, fire and rescue, education, transport, nuclear decommissioning and border security. Unions and workers would have to comply with these minimum service requirements or face losing protections against being sued or dismissed.

Working people are facing the largest fall in living standards in a generation, with bills skyrocketing and wages unable to keep up. We are also seeing severe staff shortages in the health, rail and other sectors. It is in this context that the past few months have seen the largest strike disruption in decades, with rail workers, ambulance workers and nurses taking unprecedented industrial action.

Yet rather than seek to negotiate and find practical solutions to these issues, the Government is, in my view, simply seeking to distract attention from its own role in contributing to the current situation with a Bill that is unnecessary, unethical and unworkable.

The Government argues that the legislation is about public safety. However, the Bill does not mention safety once. Indeed, last autumn the Government itself argued that minimum service levels were not needed for the emergency services due to existing regulations and voluntary arrangements. We all want minimum standards of service and staffing in the NHS and on our railways, but it is Government Ministers who are failing to provide it.

The Bill also fundamentally undermines the basic freedoms of British workers. The right to strike is a fundamental one, which the Government says it believes in. Yet this Bill will effectively withdraw that right from hundreds of thousands of workers. It is wrong in principle.

In addition, I believe the Bill is unworkable in practice. The Government’s impact assessment for minimum service levels in transport found that they could increase the frequency of strikes, lead to staffing problems because of action short of strikes and prolong industrial disputes.

This Bill threatens teachers and nurses with the sack during a staffing crisis, attacks the fundamental freedoms of working people and does nothing to resolve the current crisis. I therefore voted against it on Monday. Unfortunately, it nevertheless passed with the support of Government MPs and will proceed to its next House of Commons stage.

I voted against this Motion, which passed, Ayes: 309, Noes: 249.