Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
12:00 AM 7th November 2023

Strike Laws To Be Passed To Protect Vital Public Services Over Christmas


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Minimum service level regulations for rail workers, ambulance staff and border security staff will be laid in parliament to mitigate disruption and ensure vital public services continue if strikes are called, the government has announced.

The legislation brings us in line with countries like France, Italy, Spain, and the US where public services reliably continue during strikes. The International Labour Organisation also recognises Minimum Service Levels as a sensible solution to protect the public from serious consequences of strikes.

"We are doing everything in our power to stop unions de-railing Christmas for millions of people.
The minimum service levels are designed to be effective and proportionate by balancing the ability to take strike action with ensuring we can keep our borders secure, supporting people to make important journeys including accessing work, education, and healthcare, and allowing people to get the emergency care they need.

Earlier this year, the government consulted widely on proposals to introduce minimum service levels legislation across a range of sectors, under the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act which received Royal Assent in July.

"An improved service on strike days will allow passengers to continue with their day-to-day lives and support businesses,
For border security, the regulations will apply to employees of Border Force and selected HM Passport Office staff where passport services are required for the purposes of national security. The laws will set out that border security services should be provided at a level that means that they are no less effective than if a strike were not taking place. It will also ensure all ports and airports remain open on a strike.

For train operators, it will mean the equivalent of 40% of their normal timetable can operate as normal and, in the case of strikes that affect rail infrastructure services, certain priority routes can remain open.

Minimum service level regulations for ambulance workers will ensure that vital ambulance services in England will continue throughout any strike action, ensuring that cases that are life-threatening, or where there is no reasonable clinical alternative to an ambulance response, are responded to.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:
"We are doing everything in our power to stop unions de-railing Christmas for millions of people. This legislation will ensure more people will be able to travel to see their friends and family and get the emergency care they need.

"We cannot go on relying on short term fixes - including calling on our Armed Forces or civil servants - to mitigate the disruption caused by strike action.

"That’s why we’re taking the right long-term decision to bring in minimum service levels, in line with other countries, to keep people safe and continue delivering the vital public services that hard-working people rely on."

Where minimum service level regulations are in place and strike action is called, employers can issue work notices to identify people who are reasonably required to work to ensure minimum service levels are met.

The law requires unions to take reasonable steps and ensure their members who are identified with a work notice comply and if a union fails to do this, they will lose their legal protection from damages claims.

Last year, we raised the maximum damages that courts can award against a union for unlawful strike action. For the biggest unions, the maximum award has risen from £250,000 to £1 million.

Transport Secretary, Mark Harper said:
"For too long, hard working people have been unfairly targeted by rail union leaders - prevented from making important journeys, including getting to work, school or vital hospital appointments.

"Minimum Service Levels will help address this by allowing the rail industry to plan ahead to reduce disruption for passengers while ensuring workers can still exercise their ability to strike.

"An improved service on strike days will allow passengers to continue with their day-to-day lives and support businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector."

Earlier this year, we accepted the independent pay review bodies recommendations in full, providing a fair pay deal for all public sector workers.

An agreement between the government and Agenda for Change unions earlier this year saw over one million NHS staff receive a 5% pay rise along with one-off awards worth over £3,000 for the typical nurse or ambulance worker.

For rail workers, there remains a fair and reasonable offer on the table which several unions have already accepted, one which would deliver competitive pay rises of 5% + 4% pay increase over two years.

Home Office staff in delegated grades including Border Force staff have been provided with a pay award averaging 4.5% with an additional 0.5% targeted at the lower grades.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:
"We must never allow strike action to compromise our border security or cause significant disruption to passengers and goods at our borders.

"The Armed Forces have commendably stepped up to fill vital roles during recent industrial action, but it would be irresponsible to rely on such short-term solutions to protect our national security.

"The minimum service levels announced will ensure a fair balance between delivering the best possible service to the travelling public, maintaining a secure border and the ability of workers to strike."

The government continues to recognise the crucial role of NHS staff and remains committed to working constructively to end any disruption for patients, and there are currently no live strike mandates relating to ambulance trusts. However, strikes have already had a significant impact on patients, NHS staff and efforts to cut waiting lists – including over one million postponed appointments and procedures.

The Department of Health and Social Care is currently seeking evidence on expanding the scope of minimum service levels to cover other urgent and emergency hospital-based services which could include nurses and doctors. The consultation is set to close on the 14th of November.

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said:
"Patients must be protected and strikes in ambulance services could put the lives and health of the public at risk, given their essential role in responding to life threatening emergencies.

"While voluntary agreements between employers and trade unions can still be agreed ahead of industrial action, these regulations provide a safety net for trusts and an assurance to the public that vital emergency services will be there when they need them.

"We will continue to take steps to protect patient safety and ensure health services have the staff they need to operate safely and effectively, no matter the circumstances."

The Education Secretary has committed to introduce minimum service levels on a voluntary basis should an agreement be reached with the education unions. If a voluntary arrangement cannot be agreed, a consultation will be launched on introducing minimum service levels in schools and colleges. Separately, the Department has also committed to launching a consultation on introducing minimum service levels in universities.

"Patients must be protected and strikes in ambulance services could put the lives and health of the public at risk,
The Department for Business and Trade recently consulted on a new draft statutory Code of Practice on the ‘reasonable steps’ a trade union should take to meet the requirements set out in the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023.

They will also launch a consultation on removing regulation 7 across all sectors which prevents employment businesses supplying agency workers to cover the duties normally performed by a worker who is taking part in an official strike or other industrial action. These will be published in due course.