Proposed reforms to trade union law could criminalise nurses, warns MP

MPs debating the Trade Union Bill have voted it through to the next stage

Draft legislation on trade unions that would make it illegal to strike unless 40% of members have voted in favour could criminalise nurses and other public sector workers, MPs have argued. 

During a second reading of the Trade Union Bill in parliament this week, Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington in Durham, said: ‘The changes will worsen industrial relations and push us further down the path to a more confrontational labour relations policy.

'I abhor the thought that it could potentially criminalise firefighters, nurses, teachers and other workers who are simply trying to defend a fair and safer workplace.’

MPs backed the bill, which critics argue will inhibit the right of public sector workers to strike, by 317 votes to 284 at second reading in the Commons. The second reading is a good litmus test of whether legislation is likely to be passed through a vote of MPs.

Under the proposed bill, unions would have to give employers two weeks instead of one week notice of industrial action. The amount of time that union representatives can spend carrying out their union duties at work would also be capped. These rules would apply to unions in England, Wales and Scotland.

Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton, Liz McInnes, highlighted RCN research showing that only 1.5% of public sector healthcare workplaces have a full-time union representative. 

Margaret Greenwood, Labour MP for Wirral West, said the unions’ powers would be curbed undemocratically. ‘I recently met a nurse who told me why she joined a union more than 20 years ago. In her workplace it had been common practice for nurses to mop up bodily fluids off the floor without wearing gloves. It was only the intervention of the union that led to this practice being stopped. She joined as a result and never looked back.’

Business secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘This is not an attempt to ban industrial action or an attack on workers. It will put power in the hands of the mass membership.’

London mayor and Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Boris Johnson, said: ‘What the bill offers, contrary to what we have heard from opposition members, is a set of protections for two sets of working people: those who utterly depend on public services for their everyday lives, and those who work in public services and find that they are often engaged in pointless, costly strike action because of the actions of a politically motivated minority.’


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