Government expects to fight unions in court over anti-strike legislation, says Business Secretary Grant Shapps

The Government is expecting to fight unions in court over controversial anti-strike laws, the Business Secretary has said.

Grant Shapps will introduce legislation in the Commons on Tuesday that would enforce a “basic” level of service from some sectors during industrial action.

It will cover the fire, ambulance and rail industries and comes after crisis talks between ministers and unions failed to resolve ongoing disputes on Monday.

Unions and Labour have criticised the move as anti worker and warned that bill could allow employers to sue trade unions over strikes.

Mr Shapps defended the proposed laws and said the government wanted to end “forever strikes”.

Asked whether he was ready to see the bill challenged in court, he told Times Radio: "Almost all legislation is at some point challenged in court. That’s how it’s tested.

“But Parliament is able to make primary legislation. That's the job of Parliament to do. All we'd be doing here is bringing ourselves in line with what is already practiced in many other countries.”

Mr Shapps added that minimum service requirements would not result in NHS staff being sacked.

“The talk that somebody will be sacked is no more true than it would be under any employment contract and that’s always the case when people have to stick to the law,” he said.

It comes as the UK continues to face a wave of new and ongoing industrial action, including from rail workers, firefighters, teachers, nurses, junior doctors, physiotherapists and the postal service.

Bus drivers in south and west London are on strike on Tuesday, while paramedics across the country will walk out on Wednesday.

Responding to the anti-strike bill b, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: “This is an attack on human rights and civil liberties which we will oppose in the courts, Parliament and the workplace.

“One of the most important things in any democratic society is to have free trade unions.

“This law could make effective strike action illegal, and workers may be sacked for exercising their right to withdraw their labour.

“The only reason this draconian legislation is being introduced is because the government have lost the argument and want to punish workers for having the temerity to demand decent pay and working conditions.

“The government’s own impact assessment of minimum service levels shows it wouldn’t work. They would be better off coming to a negotiated settlement with unions through dialogue.”

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “This represents one of the most shameful attacks on the democratic rights and liberties of working people in decades.

“This proposed anti trade union law will make it that much harder for key workers to defend their jobs, wages, and conditions against attacks from their bosses or cutbacks from the government.

“Firefighters and other key workers will be much more vulnerable to having their terms and conditions eroded by their employers.

“This is an attack on all workers - including key workers, who kept our public services going during the pandemic.

“It’s an attack on Britain’s Covid heroes and on all workers. We need a mass movement of resistance to this authoritarian attack. “

Nurses will not be included in the new laws after the Royal College of Nursing agreed nationwide minimum staffing levels during strikes.

Ambulance workers made agreements with local hospital trusts to respond to life threatening calls.

The Health Secretary is rumoured to be considering a plan to backdate next year’s NHS staff pay increase when he met with unions.

Steve Barclay reportedly suggested that improving efficiency in the health service could “unlock additional funding” and lead to an increased wage offer in the spring.

Trade union Unison welcomed the “tone change” from Government but said there was no “tangible offer” made.