Incoming strike laws designed to provide consistent service during walkouts could be used to curtail workers’ rights, it has been claimed. An expert said the government’s bid to enforce “minimum service levels” via legislation should prove uncontroversial in the current climate. But they have warned that “unsympathetic ministers” could use the new powers to “dramatically minimize” efforts by workers to attain better pay.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, Louise Stewart, a communications expert and partner at investment firm Penta Group, argued that workers have historically provided minimum service during strikes.
She said that fact should mean that requiring this legally “shouldn’t be controversial”, especially “when it comes to critical services like hospitals”.
Given that these services “have been provided”, she said, the law should not introduce dramatic changes.
But it also gives ministers the power to decide what that minimum service level is, meaning it could prove damaging for employment rights in the wrong hands.
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Ms Stewart said: “The issue with the Government’s proposed strike law is that it gives ministers total discretion to decide what that ‘minimum service level’ should be.
“So in future, an unsympathetic minister could set that bar so high that it dramatically minimizes the impact of a strike.”
Ultimately, she added, striking has proved more beneficial than harmful and said “both sides” should work to hammer out a compromise.
Ms Stewart added: “The right to strike for better pay and conditions has been a cornerstone of our industrial relations policy for over a century.”
“While it’s often inconvenient and can be taken too far, on balance, the right to strike does more good than harm.
“So, as ever in industrial relations, the best outcome on this is probably an imperfect compromise, hammered out between both sides.”
The forthcoming strike laws were originally proposed during Liz Truss’s brief tenure as Prime Minister by then business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Rishi Sunak’s government aims to use the legislation to create minimum service levels for fire, ambulance and rail services.
Ministers are consulting on what they should make the minimum level, fearing that service reductions could endanger lives.
Health and emergency personnel are among those who have gone on strike in recent weeks and continued to provide for patients without these laws.
But chiefs have indicated that upcoming additional strikes on February 6 could prove highly disruptive.
Up to 30,000 nurses and ambulance staff will walk out on the day, making it the “biggest strike day in NHS history”.
Speaking to MPs, Chris Hopson, chief strategy officer for NHS England, said the NHS would enter a “new and more difficult phase in the dispute”.
He told the Health and Social Care Committee that a combination of factors, including the strike length and the number of trusts affected would make them especially disruptive.
He said the NHS is doing “all we can to make sure that those who need care receive it as we’ve done so far”.
Mr Hopson added: “I particularly wanted to stress that it is incredibly important that any patient who does have a life-threatening emergency does call 999 and that for any other urgent care, please use 111 online.”