Workers' Rights Body Denies Rishi Sunak's Claims It Backs Government's Anti-Strike Law

The International Labour Organisation says it is "very worried" about the crackdown on industrial action.
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The UN’s workers’ rights agency has rubbished the UK government’s claim it backs its new anti-strike laws.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has previously insisted the International Labour Organisation (ILO) supports the controversial plan to bring in “minimum service” levels in the public sector.

But Gilbert Houngbo, the ILO director general, said he was “very worried” about the prospect of British workers being sacked if they took industrial action.

He told the BBC his organisation had “been in discussions” with British trade unions about whether the government was breaching international workers’ rights laws.

Sunak told parliament in January: “The International Labour Organisation supports minimum service levels. They are present in France, in Italy, in Spain.”

Grant Shapps, the business secretary, also claimed in the Commons the ILO believed “minimum service levels are a proportionate way of balancing the right to strike with the need to protect the wider public”.

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill passed its first hurdle in the Commons earlier this week.

Under the new law, unions and employers must guarantee a base level of service in the health, rail, education, fire and border security sectors while industrial action takes place.

Strikes will be deemed illegal if trade unions fail to do so, while employers will also able to sue unions and sack workers who do not comply.

The ILO is not the first international labour organisation to dispute the British government’s claims its crackdown of striking workers simply matches the rules in many European countries.

The European Federation of Public Service Unions told openDemocracy: “It’s bollocks.”

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “Grant Shapps has been ludicrously claiming that his Sacking Nurses Bill has the international seal of approval, but the ILO and the US Labour Secretary clearly beg to differ.

“The business secretary has been hiding behind warped and wilful misunderstandings of the International Labour Organisation’s code in his desperate attempts to justify this shoddy, unworkable and vindictive piece of legislation.”

The row comes as unions across the public sector ramped up strike action amid disputes over pay and conditions.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) will also hold a national “protect the right to strike” event, which will see protests take place across the country, on the same day.


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