Toggle high contrast
Issue date
  • Ministers to lay regulations today for minimum service levels in rail, the ambulance service and border security
  • Conservatives also looking to overturn ban on use of agency workers during strikes – despite “humiliating” defeat at the High Court in June
  • TUC accuses government of punishing workers “for daring to stand up for decent pay and better services.”  
  • Union body says new laws are almost certainly in breach of international law

The TUC has today (Monday) slammed the government for trying to railroad through “unworkable” and “irrational” anti-strike laws.

Ministers will today lay regulations for so-called ‘minimum service levels’ in rail, the ambulance service and border security. Ministers have said they will be rushed into force by the end of the year.

This comes despite warnings from unions and employer groups that the plans are unworkable.

The laws will mean that when workers lawfully vote to strike they could be forced to attend work – and sacked if they don’t comply.

TUC research found a massive 1 in 5 workers in Britain – or 5.5 million workers - are at risk of losing their right to strike as a result of the Strikes (Minimum service levels) Act.

Agency worker rules

In addition, ministers will try again to overturn the ban on the use of agency workers during strikes.

In June the government was defeated in the High Court after it rushed through new laws that allowed agencies to supply employers with workers to fill in for those on strike.

The presiding judge scolded ministers for acting in a way that was “unfair, unlawful and irrational” and reinstated the ban on agency staff being used to break strikes.

But despite this rebuke – and strong opposition from unions and employers - ministers are resurrecting the plans with a new consultation.

Commenting on the extension of minimum service levels to rail, the ambulance services and border security, Paul Nowak said:

“These anti-strike laws won’t work. The crisis in our public services is of the government’s own making.

“Rather than engaging constructively with unions, they are attacking the right to strike. And they are punishing paramedics and rail staff for daring to stand up for decent pay and better services.

“These new laws are unworkable, undemocratic and almost certainly in breach of international law.  

“The UK already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe.

“It is already harder for working people here to take strike action than in any other Western European country. Now the Tories want to make it even harder for people to win fair pay and conditions.

“Unions will keep fighting this spiteful legislation. We won’t stop until it is repealed.”

In September the TUC reported the government to the International Labour Organization (ILO) – the UN workers’ rights watchdog – over the Strikes Act.

Commenting on the announcement on agency workers, TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“Allowing unscrupulous employers to bring in agency staff to deliver important services risks endangering public safety and escalating disputes.

“Agency recruitment bodies have repeatedly made clear they don’t want their staff to be used as political pawns during strikes. But ministers are not listening.

“Despite suffering a humiliating defeat at the High Court, they are bringing back the same irrational plans.

“This is the act of desperate government looking to distract from its appalling record.”

Editors note

Criticism of MSLs:

The legislation gives ministers sweeping powers to impose strike restrictions in any service within health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning.

The EHRC recently warned that the legislation could see all striking workers in affected sectors lose their unfair dismissal protection, as whole strikes could be deemed illegal.

The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recently criticised the Act for giving blanket powers to UK ministers while providing virtually no detail.

The Act has also faced a barrage of criticism from civil liberties organisations, the joint committee on human rights, House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, race and gender equalities groups, employment rights lawyers, and politicians around the world.

Criticism of agency worker regulations:

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), which represents suppliers of agency workers, has previously described the proposals as “unworkable”.

The Lords Committee charged with scrutinising the legislation said “the lack of robust evidence and the expected limited net benefit raise questions as to the practical effectiveness and benefit” of the new rules.  

Enable Two-Factor Authentication

To access the admin area, you will need to setup two-factor authentication (TFA).

Setup now