Ministers press on with move to bring in minimum service levels during strikes

Government is pushing legal action to impose minimum service levels during strikes by transport workers.

The announcement follows months of industrial action by railroad workers in bitter disputes over wages, jobs and conditions that have caused travel chaos across the country.

The unions criticized the move, many believing it was unfeasible.

The government said the transport strikes (minimum service levels) law would mean that even during the most disruptive strikes, some level of services will still run.

The government said economists had estimated the first wave of rail strikes in June had cost the UK economy nearly £100m.

Prime Minister Liz Truss said: “Hard working people and businesses should not be blackmailed by strikes that have repeatedly paralyzed our transport network this year.

“This legislation fulfills our 2019 manifesto and will not only limit the ability of unions to cripple our economy, but also ensure that passengers across the country can continue to get to work, school or the hospital legally.”

Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “Strikes have hit almost all of us over the last year – whether that means losing a day’s wages at work, having to close your shop, missing important doctor’s appointments or preventing our children from getting to school .

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

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The legislation means that a minimum level of service must be maintained during transport strikes.

If this is not delivered, the unions lose legal protection against damages.

rail strikes

Aslef General Secretary Mick Whelan (right) at a picket line at Euston station in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

Employers will declare the labor force needed to maintain ‘reasonable’ levels of work during strikes and unions must take reasonable steps to ensure that an appropriate number of specified workers also work on strike days.

Under the legislation, “specified” workers who continue to strike lose their protections from automatic wrongful dismissal.

The bill will have its first reading on Thursday, and the legislation is expected to come into force in 2023 for transport services across the country.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the Aslef train drivers’ union, said the Prime Minister did not understand how the railways worked.

“The rail companies don’t want to offer minimum services because they know that’s a stupid idea. What happens if 100% of passengers try to board trains with a minimum service level of 40%?

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

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

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

Mr Whelan said he believed the legislation would lead to protracted industrial action.

The General Secretary of the Rail, Shipping and Transport Union, Mick Lynch, said: “This cynical law bans effective legal industrial action on our railways.

“It’s an autocratic move by an increasingly despotic prime minister trying to hold on to her budding position as prime minister.

“All Democrats, whether in or out of Parliament, must oppose this draconian attempt to challenge the basic human right to strike.

“RMT and the whole trade union movement will not accept unjust anti-union legislation and I call on all workers in Britain to put up the fiercest civil resistance, in the proud tradition of the Chartists and Suffragettes.”

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said: “This Prime Minister has crashed the economy and pushed up mortgage rates for millions of working people and now she is trying to undermine her right to negotiate better wages and conditions.

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

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

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These proposals will undermine the right to strike.

“This is an open attempt to prevent transport workers from campaigning for better wages and working conditions.

“These changes are unfair, unworkable and inconsistent with our international obligations.

“This is nothing more than a lame Prime Minister lashing out at working people and their unions.

“The unions will resist these proposals at every turn.”

Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association secretary-general Manuel Cortes said: “The Tories are going back to type with this new legislation.

“Now that they’ve wrecked the economy and lost control of inflation, they’ve decided their top priority is to protect the rights of kamikaze workers as well.

“This is an outright attack on working people, who are primarily organizing against the Tory-managed loss of purchasing power.

“We will fight tooth and nail against any attempt to prevent our members from exercising their human rights.

“The difference between a slave and a worker is the latter’s ability to retire his labor.”

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