Rail, fire and ambulance staff will be made to work even if they vote to strike

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Ambulance workers on the picket line outside ambulance headquarters in Coventry (Image: PA)
Ambulance workers on the picket line outside ambulance headquarters in Coventry (Image: PA)

Tory ministers today confirmed plans to force railway workers, firefighters and paramedics to go to work - even when they’ve voted to strike.

After weeks of threats, the government said a Bill will be introduced to Parliament in the coming weeks to ban more than a certain threshold of workers walking out.

Firms will be able to sue unions for damages or have them slapped with an injunction if they refuse to obey the new “minimum service levels”, the government said.

Reports have suggested workers who refuse to comply could be sacked.

The Trades Union Congress has vowed to fight the Bill though the courts, it could be blocked in the House of Lords, and Keir Starmer has said he’ll repeal it if he gets into government.

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The Bill will include Health, education, fire and rescue and transport services, border security, and decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel.

Rail, fire and ambulance staff will be made to work even if they vote to strikeRMT members on the picket line in Edinburgh (PA)

At first, compulsory minimum safety levels will only be set for fire, ambulance and rail services.

The exact level of how many workers need to keep turning up during a strike will be decided in a consultation.

The other areas - including schools - will rely on voluntary agreements at first but service levels could become compulsory if this does not work, the government said.

Business Secretary Grant Shapps rejected claims the law would hit the human rights of union members, saying: “Civilised European nations, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, they all have some form of minimum safety levels.”

He said that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) also has said that there is "nothing wrong" with such a scheme "when it's a question of life and death".

But unions vowed to fight the proposals.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak blasted: "This is an attack on the right to strike. It’s an attack on working people. And it’s an attack on one of our longstanding British liberties.

“It means that when workers democratically vote to strike, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t. That’s wrong, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal.”

Rail, fire and ambulance staff will be made to work even if they vote to strikeA quiet Birmingham New Street station this week (SWNS)

It came as the government said it would press ahead with the review of 2023/24 pay - despite talks over 2022/23 still not being resolved.

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UNISON assistant general secretary Jon Richards said: “The government is picking ill-advised fights with NHS employees and unions to mask years of dismal failure to tackle pay and staffing.

“UNISON will be examining these proposals and considering how to respond, including any appropriate legal challenge.”

RCN General Secretary Pat Cullen said: “Curtailing workers’ freedom to participate in lawful industrial action is always undemocratic and we will look closely at what the government releases next week.”

Keir Starmer today said his Labour government would repeal any minimum service law that passes.

Rail, fire and ambulance staff will be made to work even if they vote to strikeKeir Starmer today said his Labour government would repeal any minimum service law that passes (PA)

Mr Starmer, who previously declined to say whether he would repeal the crackdown, said: "Frankly, the Government is all over the show on this.

“Every day there is a different briefing as to whether there is going to be legislation, what it is going to be and when it is going to come - I think there is a reason for that and that is because I don't think this legislation is going to work.

“I am pretty sure they have had an assessment that tells them that it is likely to make a bad situation worse.

“Obviously we will look at what they bring forward, but if it is further restrictions then we would repeal it.

"The reason for that is I do not think that legislation is the way that you bring an end to industrial disputes."

Mr Starmer swerved saying how much a Labour Government would offer nurses calling for a 19% pay rise, which he previously branded unaffordable.

But he said he would “get in the room and talk to them”, adding: “It’s very important in relation to industrial action to understand quite how much people are struggling to make ends meet and why they are driven to this action - particularly the nurses, who have never been on strike nationally ever before.”

He accused ministers of being prepared for a “war” with nurses where they “slug it out month after month after month”.

Dan Bloom

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