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Unions on collision course with the Government over new strike law

Paul Nowak, second-left, TUC general secretary, spoke at a special conference on strikes (PA)
Paul Nowak, second-left, TUC general secretary, spoke at a special conference on strikes (PA)

Unions have set themselves on a collision course with the Government after vowing to resist a controversial new law to provide minimum levels of service during strikes.

A special TUC conference on Saturday attended by leaders of the country’s biggest trade unions agreed to build “mass opposition” to the regulations.

The Government announced on Friday that the regulations were now in place for the railway industry, Border Force and ambulance service, with the aim of ensuring a minimum level of service during strikes.

The TUC said it will not rest until the “malicious, unnecessary and unworkable” law is repealed – welcoming Labour’s commitment to repeal the legislation in the first 100 days of a Labour government.

The union organisation said it will “use all means necessary to defeat the unjust minimum service level laws” – including kicking off a nationwide campaign to name and shame employers who choose to use the legislation and issue so-called work notices to individuals who will be expected to wortk during strikes.

The TUC also committed to “novel and effective forms of industrial action” to fight the new laws, such as action short of strike and overtime bans.

The special conference followed 18 months of strikes by hundreds of thousands of workers over pay and conditions.

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak told the conference: “Be in no doubt – this legislation is a Trojan horse for further attacks on the right to strike.

“If the Conservatives have their way, it won’t just be public sector workers who face being sacked if they go on strike – but workers across the whole economy.

“The union movement will use all means necessary to defeat and repeal these spiteful new laws.

“We will kick off a nationwide campaign of naming and shaming any employer or public body that uses this legislation.

“We will use novel and effective forms of industrial action like action short of strike when employers resort to using the legislation and won’t listen or negotiate, and the full force of the whole union movement will stand behind any worker disciplined or sacked for exercising their right to strike.”

Metro mayors and council leaders from across the UK have warned that the new law will make disputes harder to solve and lead to more frequent and longer strikes, the TUC announced.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), will tell the conference: “The mass strike wave that our union and others played a major role in is still continuing in various sectors and smaller, regional industrial disputes are still ongoing throughout the country

“In the lead-up to Christmas when several unions still have strike mandates, including our own on London Underground, Government ministers have been stepping up their rhetoric that they won’t allow strike action to disrupt Christmas.

“It is vital that unions come together to pressure the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and the regional mayors to make a pledge never to issue a work notice if there is a breakdown in industrial relations.

“Isolating Westminster politically will show that the Tory Government alone wants minimum service legislation implemented.”

Mr Lynch said the RMT will be writing to employers calling on them not to use the so-called work notices to ensure a minimum service level, warning that if they fail to give satisfactory guarantees the union will have to consider having industrial disputes with them.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union said: “The trade union movement has fired the starting gun on a campaign of resistance.”

He added that unions had agreed they will refuse to tell their members to cross picket lines in “clear defiance” of the new law.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said the new law was an attempt to prevent unions fighting for better pay for workers.

She said one of the unions present today would be the first to be challenged by the regulations and face court action.

“At that point we have to act together, but to face facts that may put us outside the law. This Government is at war with workers. We are going to face them down.”

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Union said minimum service levels will not address the “crisis” in schools or resolve inadequate funding, pay, excessive workloads or recruitment problems.

Rail minister Huw Merriman said: “Strikes cause stress and disruption to passengers and businesses and, whilst there is no silver bullet to mitigating the disruption from strikes, these regulations deliver a manifesto promise and will enable employers to reduce the impact from strikes.

“As the Government, we have a duty to ensure the public can access key services, and while it is important workers maintain their ability to strike, this must not come at the cost of people getting to work, accessing healthcare or education.”