Strike law that could see nurses sacked is reported to UN watchdog
TUC lodges case with UN agency over ‘undemocratic’ law restricting strike action that could affect essential services
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is reporting the government to the United Nations workers’ rights watchdog over its ‘unworkable’ new strikes law.
The TUC announced on 10 September it is lodging the case at the International Labour Organization (ILO) because the legislation falls short of international legal standards.
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 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.
TUC says the law breaches UK commitments
In a news conference on the opening day of the TUC Congress in Liverpool, general secretary Paul Nowak said: ‘These laws haven’t been designed to resolve conflict at work, they’ve been designed to escalate it. ‘They’re unworkable, undemocratic and almost certainly in breach of international law.’
The TUC believes the act breaches two of the UK’s commitments in its post-Brexit trade agreement with the European Union – its commitments to maintaining a level playing field on labour standards and to respecting ILO conventions.
European Trade Union Confederation general secretary Esther Lynch said: ‘The strikes act is a fundamental attack on the right to strike and will make the UK an international outlier on trade union rights and labour standards. Rather than bringing the UK in line with its European partners, these draconian laws will cut it adrift.
‘It is already harder for working people in the UK to take strike action than in any other Western European country. Now your government wants to restrict the right to strike even further.’
‘Failure to invest in the nursing workforce’
An RCN spokesperson said the legislation seeks to curtail nurses' freedom to stand up for their rights.
‘As ministers set requirements for minimum service levels to prevent strikes, the reality is that a failure to invest in the nursing workforce means wards are already short of the staff needed to keep patients safe.
‘Instead of using the law to keep staff at work during strikes or industrial action, ministers need to invest in nursing to make it a more attractive profession to join, prevent an exodus of staff and protect patient care.’
Government says law is to protect the lives and livelihoods of the general public
The government brought forward the legislation following a year of industrial unrest in the UK, including historic strike action by nurses.
A government spokesperson said: ‘The purpose of this legislation is to protect the lives and livelihoods of the general public and ensure they can continue to access vital public services during strikes.
‘The legislation does not remove the ability to strike, but people expect the government to act in circumstances where their rights and freedoms are being disproportionately impacted, and that’s what we are doing with this bill.’
A consultation is under way on how minimum service levels should be ensured during future industrial action, including when nurses go on strike.
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