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Ministers press on with move to bring in minimum service levels during strikes

The announcement follows months of industrial action by railway workers in bitter disputes over pay, jobs and conditions.

19 October 2022

The Government is pressing ahead with legal moves to introduce minimum service levels during strikes by transport workers.

The announcement follows months of industrial action by railway workers in bitter disputes over pay, jobs and conditions which has caused travel chaos across the country.

Unions criticised the move, with many believing it would be unworkable.

The Government said the Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill would mean that even during the most disruptive of strikes, a certain level of services will still run.

The Government said economists have assessed that the first wave of rail strikes in June cost the UK economy nearly £100 million.

Prime Minister Liz Truss said: “Hardworking people and businesses should not be held to ransom by strike action which has repeatedly crippled our transport network this year.

“This legislation delivers on our 2019 manifesto and will not only limit the unions’ ability to paralyse our economy, but will ensure passengers across the country can rightly continue to get to work, school or hospital.”

Transport Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said: “Strikes have affected nearly all of us over this last year – whether that means losing out on a day’s pay at work, having to close your business, missing vital medical appointments or stopping our children from getting to school.

“It is vital that public transport users have some continuity of service to keep Britain moving and growing. This legislation will give everyone the certainty they need to carry on with their daily lives.”

The legislation will mean a minimum service level must be in place during transport strikes.

If this is not delivered, the unions will lose legal protections from damages.

Rail Strikes
Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan (right) at a picket line at Euston station in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

Employers will specify the workforce required to meet an “adequate” service level during strikes and unions will have to take reasonable steps to ensure an appropriate number of specified workers still work on strike days.

Under the legislation, “specified” workers who still take strike action will lose their protection from automatic unfair dismissal.

The Bill will undertake its first reading on Thursday and the legislation is expected to come into force on transport services across the country in 2023.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers union Aslef, said the Prime Minister doesn’t understand the way the railway works.

“The train companies don’t want to run minimum service levels because they know it’s a stupid idea. What happens when 100% of passengers try to get on 40% minimum service level trains?

“It will look like Japan where they cram people in like cattle, and the rolling stock will, next day, be in the wrong place, which will mess up the normal timetable.

“The government claims that similar legislation exists in other European countries, such as Germany, France, and Spain. Yes, it does, but what the government doesn’t know – or doesn’t choose to say – is that it is not enforced. Because they know it doesn’t work.

“The lack of full establishments – most of the companies don’t have enough drivers to run the services they promise passengers they will provide – will be another problem.”

Mr Whelan said he believed the legislation would lead to industrial strife lasting longer.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This cynical piece of legislation outlaws effective legal industrial action on our railways.

“It is an autocratic move from an increasingly despotic Prime Minister trying to cling on to her fledging premiership.

“All democrats whether inside or outside parliament must oppose this draconian attempt to clamp down on the fundamental human right to strike.

“RMT and the entire trade union movement will not accept unjust anti union laws and I call upon all workers in Britain to mount the fiercest civil resistance possible, in the proud traditions of the chartists and suffragettes.”

Louise Haigh, shadow transport secretary, said: “This Prime Minister crashed the economy and hiked up mortgage rates for millions of working people, and now she is attempting to undermine their right to negotiate better pay and conditions.

“These unworkable plans are desperate attempt from the Tories to distract from the chaos engulfing their government.”

“Instead of attacking working people, ministers should finally do the job of a responsible government, get around the table and find a resolution to this dispute.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These proposals will undermine the right to strike.

“This is a naked attempt to stop transport workers taking action for better pay and conditions.

“These changes are unfair, unworkable and incompatible with our international commitments.

“This is no more than a lame duck Prime Minister lashing out at working people and their unions.

“Trade unions will oppose these proposals every step of the way.”

Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association general secretary, Manuel Cortes, said: “The Tories are reverting to type with this new legislation.

“Now they have sunk the economy and lost control of inflation, they have decided that their top priority is to kamikaze workers’ rights as well.

“This is an outright attack on working people who are organising against the loss of purchasing power engineered by the Tories in the first place.

“We will fight tooth and nail any attempt to stop our members from exercising their human rights.

“The difference between a slave and a worker is the ability of the latter to withdraw their labour.”

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