Margaret Greenwood MP has said that more than 12 years of abject failure from Conservative governments are to blame for widespread public sector strikes.
The Wirral West MP was taking part in a debate on the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill in parliament, and she accused the government of pushing nurses, ambulance workers and other dedicated NHS staff to the brink.
The bill, if passed, would allow the government to make regulations setting out the minimum service levels required in certain sectors during strikes. Those sectors are:
- Health services
- Fire and rescue services
- Education services
- Transport services
- Decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel
- Border security
Unions and workers would have to comply with these minimum service levels or face losing protections against being sued or dismissed.
The government have said that they are introducing the legislation “to ensure that striking workers don’t put the public’s lives at risk.” However, Margaret Greenwood said this was “an insult to workers who kept the country running during the Covid-19 pandemic, putting themselves at considerable risk.” The Wirral West MP added that it was “an insult to nursing unions and representative bodies that worked hard to ensure that there would be cover for urgent cases during their strike.”
The bill has been widely criticised by legal experts who expect there to be legal challenges to it.
Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, has said that, “The introduction of minimum safety levels does not comply with the UK’s legal obligations under Convention No. 87 of the International Labour Organisation on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Meanwhile, Martin Williams, Head of Employment at Mayo Wynne Baxter, has noted the fact that the bill is widely scoped, with many of the powers to be brought in under secondary legislation which is subject to much less parliamentary scrutiny. He said that this effectively “allows the government to make it up as they go along.”
Despite widespread opposition, the bill passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons by 306 votes to 252.
Speaking after the debate, Margaret Greenwood MP said, “It is wholly unacceptable that the government is legislating to allow organisations to sack people for going on strike.
“I support my constituents in taking strike action. I know that they do not do it lightly.
“Nurses have told me that their dispute is not just about pay; it is about the campaign for safe staffing levels. Transport workers are calling for guarantees about working practices and job security.
“The government has tried to argue that this is about ensuring minimum levels of service on strike days, yet it has failed to ensure minimum levels on any other day of the year.
“For the first time in their 106-year history, members of the Royal College of Nursing have voted for strike action. They have my full support.
“We know the NHS is in crisis, a crisis of the government’s own making. It is the government that has failed to plan and deliver sufficient nurses and other healthcare staff. This is totally unfair and is putting NHS staff under a huge amount stress.
“Many Wirral West residents have written to me to say how appalled they are by this legislation.
“Instead of attacking people’s right to strike, the government should get around the negotiating table and do all they can to resolve these disputes.”