Rail unions could be required to maintain a maximum level of service when they call strike action under a change in the law being proposed by the government.
The Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, if it gets approved by Parliament, would require that a minimum number of staff are made available to work even during a strike. According to the proposal, if the unions don’t maintain a set level of service, then they would lose their existing legal protection from being sued for damages.
Employers would be able to specify the workforce required to meet an adequate service level during strikes and unions must take reasonable steps to ensure an appropriate number of specified workers still work on strike days. In addition, staff who are expected to work but still take strike action will lose their protection from automatic unfair dismissal.
The intention of the legislation is that relevant employers and unions agree on a minimum service level to continue running during all strikes over a 3-month period. If such a level cannot be agreed upon, an independent arbitrator – the Central Arbitration Committee – will determine the minimum number of services.
Unsurprisingly, the RMT slammed the new law as “autocratic”.
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said, “All democrats whether inside or outside parliament must oppose this draconian attempt to clamp down on the fundamental human right to strike.”
Setting aside the arguments about whether its right to curtail people’s right to strike, as there are already jobs where strikes are banned, such as the police, there’s the practical impact of how does anyone define a minimum level of service, and who can make use of the service?
If the level is set very low, then it’ll have such a restrictive effect that the train companies would need to ration who is allowed to use the trains to ensure that key workers can get to work. However, set the level high enough to avoid that, and you pretty much render the strike impotent.
The bill will undertake its first reading in Parliament today, and if it gets approved, is expected to come into force on transport services across the country in 2023.
According to the Department for Transport, the “Prime Minister is delivering on her commitment to introduce the legislation within her first 30 parliamentary sitting days”. However, the law was introduced this morning, before the current Prime Minister resigned, and that could mean the next Prime Minister drops this.
Although the government wants to push ahead with the changes on rail strikes, it is also at the same time delaying the legislation that would bring Great British Railways into existence. That law would shake up the entire railway structure, but the transport secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the House of Commons transport select committee yesterday that she had “lost the opportunity” to bring forward the bill.
She said that the reforms being planned were not likely to be ready by early 2024 as had been expected, and suggested that more changes could be made to the existing plans.