MPs Back Bill That Could See Nurses Sacked For Striking

Trade unions have also been vocal in their opposition to the bill, arguing that it risks 'poisoning' industrial relations.
Trade unions have also been vocal in their opposition to the bill, arguing that it risks 'poisoning' industrial relations.

Trade unions have also been vocal in their opposition to the bill, arguing that it risks 'poisoning' industrial relations.

MPs have voted in favour of controversial proposals that could see public sector workers including nurses sacked for going on strike.

The government’s Minimum Service Levels Bill passed in parliament on Monday evening by 309 votes to 249 at second reading.

It means the bill has passed its first hurdle in the Commons. It will then be sent to committee stage, where any amendments to the bill will be considered.

The bill will force unions and employers to guarantee a base level of service in the health, rail, education, fire and border security sectors while industrial action takes place.

Strikes will be deemed illegal if trade unions fail to do so, while employers will also able to sue unions and sack workers who do not comply with demands to work after strike action has been called.

Trade unions have condemned the legislation as a fundamental threat to the right to strike, but Conservatives who support the bill argue that it protects the rights of the public.

It comes on the same day that teachers announced that they will also go on strike over pay and working conditions and nurses unveiled more strikes with greater impact in February.

Unveiling the legislation, business secretary Grant Shapps said there had been a “flare-up in strikes which are putting people’s lives and livelihoods at risk, and this government isn’t going to stand by and watch that happen”.

“Where unions insist on disproportionate and sometimes plain unsafe levels of industrial action without informing, for example, the NHS and others, then we must take the necessary steps to protect the public.

“Failing to support this bill today means that members who oppose this legislation are essentially prepared to put the safety and welfare of their own constituents at risk.”

The government has sought to dampen controversy around the legislation by comparing it to laws it says exists in European countries including France, Italy and Spain.

Workers in those countries all have the right to strike but must also provide minimum service levels during strike action.

However, critics have pointed out that in those countries, workers do not run the risk of losing their job if they strike when they are mandated to work.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said that countries with minimum service levels in place “lose vastly more strike days than Britain”.

“The public is being put at risk every day due to the government’s NHS crisis and staffing shortages,” she said.

“He is right that it is his government’s duty to protect the public’s access to essential services, but livelihoods and lives are already being lost.”

She said it was “utterly stupid” for Shapps to go from “thanking nurses to sacking nurses”.

Trade unions have also been vocal in their opposition to the bill.

Rather than prevent strikes, they have argued that the legislation risks “poisoning” industrial relations and making industrial unrest more likely.

In a statement issued before the vote, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the government had “lost the plot”.

“People are dying unnecessarily in the National Health Service because of a decade of cuts and life-threatening austerity.

“So right now the government isn’t delivering minimum service levels — not because of strikes by ambulance workers but because the government has created this crisis. The ’strikes bill” is undemocratic and unworkable and will fail. We will not stand for it.”

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