Bill that could see nurses sacked for striking becomes law
Controversial law means striking nurses and other key workers could face dismissal for defying a work notice requiring minimum levels of service
A controversial anti-strikes bill that could see nurses sacked for taking part in industrial action has been passed into law.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill passed through the House of Lords today and received Royal Assent from King Charles III after ping-ponging between the upper and lower houses of parliament for months.
Peers had previously made amendments to protect key workers who go on strike, but they have been repeatedly rejected by MPs in the House of Commons.
The new law will allow ministers to impose minimum levels of service during industrial action by nurses, doctors, ambulance staff, firefighters, railway workers and those in other sectors deemed essential.
It would mean employees could face disciplinary action or even dismissal if they refuse to comply with a work notice while on the picket line.
Opponents say law will increase industrial tensions rather than ease them
Speaking in opposition to the law, Lord Collins of Highbury and Lord Hendy of Hayes and Harlington both told the chamber the law would act to increase industrial tensions rather than ease them.
Lord Collins, Labour peer Ray Collins, said: ‘I repeat the intention of a future Labour government to repeal this Act because it doesn’t have the support of workers’ representatives or employers.
‘It’s impracticable and it will simply result in not achieving the objectives of the bill as the government set out, but worsening the situation in industrial relations. Even the government’s own impact assessments have said it could possibly increase strikes.’
Lord Hendy, Labour peer John Hendy KC, said: ‘This skeleton legalisation with its Henry VIII powers defies every legislative principle.’
He said the bill breaches the right to strike, which is a fundamental principle of international treaties that the UK adheres to.
Government says law means lives and livelihoods are not put at undue risk during strikes
But government minister Lord Martin Callanan said: ‘The House (of Lords) has asked the Commons to think again on a number of occasions – it has done so. I appreciate members opposite don’t like the outcome but it is what it is.
‘This is in our view a vital piece of legislation that will give the public confidence that when workers strike, which they are of course fully entitled to do, that lives and livelihoods are not put at undue risk.’
The law comes as hospital consultants and junior doctors currently stage strikes across England in disputes over pay and working conditions, and follows historic strike action by members of the RCN.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC), which has previously called the bill draconian, vowed to continue to fight against it. TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said the bill takes a wrecking ball to workers’ right to strike.
He said: ‘No one should be sacked for trying to win better pay and conditions at work – especially in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis. But that is exactly what this draconian legislation will allow. These new laws will give ministers the power to snatch away the right to strike from a massive 1 in 5 workers – that’s 5.5 million people.’
He urged employers to do everything in their power to avoid using the legislation.RCNi coverage of Nurses’ strikes
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