Thank you to all those who contacted me about the right to strike and the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill.
At its Second Reading on 16 January, I opposed the Bill because it threatens teachers and nurses with the sack during a staffing crisis, attacks the fundamental freedoms of working people and does nothing to resolve the underlying problems affecting our services.
Working people are facing the largest fall in living standards in a generation, with bills skyrocketing and wages unable to keep up. There are also severe staff shortages in the health, rail and other sectors.
It is in this context that the past few months have seen the largest strike disruption in decades, with rail workers, ambulance workers and nurses taking unprecedented industrial action. I believe it is deeply worrying that rather than seek practical solutions to these issues, the Government is instead seeking to push through a law that will hand Ministers new powers to order compulsory “work notices” to be issued to striking workers, who could then be sacked for going on strike.
As a proud trade unionist and someone who has held a picket line, I believe this Bill is wrong in principle. The right to strike is a fundamental one in our society, yet the Bill will effectively withdraw that right from hundreds of thousands of workers.
I also believe the Bill is unnecessary. While the Government argues that it is seeking to ensure public safety, the Bill does not mention safety once. Last autumn, the Government itself argued that minimum service levels were not needed for the emergency services due to existing regulations and voluntary arrangements. We all want minimum standards of service, safety and staffing in essential services, but it is Government Ministers who are failing to provide them.
Finally, I believe the Bill is unworkable. The Transport Secretary has admitted the proposals would do nothing to resolve the current strikes, while the Education Secretary says she hopes they are not applied to schools. The Government’s impact assessment on minimum service levels for transport, meanwhile, warned that the plans could lead to more strikes and staff shortages.
Unfortunately, the Bill passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons with the support of Government MPs. I can nevertheless assure you that I will continue to support efforts to oppose it at every stage and to repeal it if it passes.