The Key Point About Anti-Strike Bill That The Government Keeps Missing

Calling for "basic" service requirement for future strikes is not the flex Rishi Sunak thinks it is.
Rishi Sunak's 'anti-strike' laws miss the whole point of the protests
Rishi Sunak's 'anti-strike' laws miss the whole point of the protests

Rishi Sunak’s new anti-strike bill suggests he is still missing one of the main reasons workers are striking in the first place.

These proposals will curb the very impact of any future industrial action if they pass into law.

As the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) noted, it would mean many sectors would have to enforce a “basic” level of service even as workers walk out.

It was introduced to the Commons on Tuesday at a time when negotiations between unions and government still don’t seem to be going anywhere fast.

And although the legislation probably won’t affect strikers for months to come – as it has to go through the Houses of Parliament – it’s already been torn apart by workers, commentators and politicians alike.

How does this legislation miss the mark?

As many in the medical world have pointed out, staff shortages are actually *part* of the reason so many people are striking.

As a report from King’s Fund and Engage Britain pointed out in November, “there has been no decades since the 1940s in which finding more staff has not been a pressing priority” since the NHS was set up.

In September 2022, there was a vacancy rate of almost 12% among nurses, despite being at 10% only in May last year.

Similarly, in September there was a more than 7% vacancy rate among doctors – an increase from the less than 6% rate seen in May 2022.

The shortages extend to almost every other health care profession too, from midwifery, to dentistry and pharmacy.

The nurses did actually agree a level of safe staffing, before going out on strike, and ambulances did the same on a local level.

However, Shapps claimed that the strikes meant “health officials were left guessing at the likely minimum coverage”, putting “lives at risk”.

So, understandably, there was quite the response to these anti-strike proposals on Twitter.

Labour leader Keir Starmer made the same point in PMQs on Wednesday.

He said: “There’s not a minimum level of service any day because they’ve [the Conservatives] broken the NHS.”

And that’s not all...

Of course, that’s not the only problem with the anti-strike proposals, as the general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) Mick Lynch pointed out.

He said: “The only reason this draconian legislation is being introduced is because the government have lost the argument and want to punish workers for having the temerity to demand decent pay and working conditions.”The proposals have caused fury from other sectors considering strike action too.

“This is an attack on all workers – including key workers, who kept our public services going during the pandemic,” The Fire Brigades Union general secretary, Matt Wrack, said.

He added: “It’s an attack on Britain’s Covid heroes and on all workers. We need a mass movement of resistance to this authoritarian attack.”

Even the government acknowledged in its impact assessment that it could trigger “an increased frequency of strikes... and more adverse effects in the long-term”.

But, BEIS secretary Grant Shapps has said he does not see this as a risk, and hoped that the government would never need to use this power.

He told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “This would, I hope, bring everybody to the table to provide those same minimum safety levels.”

“I do think the minimum safety levels make a huge amount of sense,” Shapps continued. “I hope that rather than actually using the legislation, we’ll be able to just get this safety and security in place for people. It can’t be right that the British people are exposed to that variance and service depending on where they happen to live.”

He also told Times Radio that he wanted to end these “forever strikes”, which have been stretching on since June when rail workers walked out.

“We want to bring this to a close and the government is bending over backwards to do that.”

Shapps even suggested this was just bringing the UK in line with Germany and France where “minimum safety levels” are in place.

He also rejected claims that it could lead striking workers to be sacked, saying it was “no more true than it would be under any employment contract”.

Labour has said plan to oppose the bill, and repeal it once in government, as it could allow employers to use unions and sack workers.


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