Here's What The Government Has Said About Its Own Anti-Union Strike Laws

The department for transport's own impact assessment warns the plans could lead to more strikes and staffing shortages.
Under the new laws, employers will be able to sue unions and sack workers who go on strike in certain sectors.
Under the new laws, employers will be able to sue unions and sack workers who go on strike in certain sectors.
Belinda Jiao via Getty Images

The government is currently pledging to push through new laws that would make strikes illegal if unions failed to provide a minimum level of safety to the public.

It is a response to the crippling wave of industrial action that is gripping the UK, as nurses, ambulance staff and rail workers all walk out in a dispute with the government over pay and working conditions.

Under the new laws, employers will be able to sue unions and sack workers who go on strike in six sectors, including the health service, rail, education, fire and border security.

It has already been condemned as undemocratic and a threat to the fundamental right to strike.

Unions have already warned that they will challenge the plans in court if they are pushed through parliament.

And it seems that even government figures have expressed reservations about legislation, which could actually increase the number of strikes and exacerbate the staffing crisis that is forcing some workers on the picket line in the first place.

Transport secretary Mark Harper told the Transport Select Committee in December that the legislation would not provide a “solution” to the current wave of strikes we are seeing due to the time needed to get it through parliament.

He said that the legislation, “however quickly it is not a solution to dealing with the industrial action we see at the moment”.

And he added: “The other thing I would say is that while that legislation may well improve the service that passengers receive on strike days, my priority is to try to ensure we resolve the industrial dispute, so that passengers don’t have strike days.

“That is how you get better service to passengers. You resolve the disputes, rather than have a slightly better service on strike days.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Gilligan, the influential former transport adviser to Boris Johnson, has said the plans are not a “game-changer — at least in rail” and could trigger “more action short of strikes” — including a refusal to work overtime or take on additional duties that keep the railways running.

The department for transport’s (DfT) own impact assessment also makes these warnings, suggesting that minimum service levels plans could in fact “increase the frequency of strikes” and industrial action short of a strike that could prove damaging.

Finally, the DfT warns that in the event that staff are sacked for failing to clock on to work on strike days, employers “may find that they are low on staff to run normal services if the situation becomes extreme”.

Labour’s shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, said: “The government openly accept this damaging, counter-productive legislation could increase disruption and strike days on the rail network.

“And the transport secretary himself admits it is no solution.

“Rather than forcing through legislation that could exacerbate disruption and undermine workers’ rights, the government should show some responsibility, get around the table and start negotiating to find a deal.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “We undertake a comprehensive assessment of risks in preparing impact assessments but this does not mean that these are likely. Identifying these risks allows us to improve the design and operation of the policy.”

“We continue to believe minimum service level legislation will be a valuable tool in minimising the impact of strike action — ensuring that those who rely on the railway to work, get to school and access healthcare still can.”


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