Rail workers that are members of the ASLEF union stand at a picket line outside Euston station while on strike, in London, Britain, Jan 5, 2023. (HENRY NICHOLLS / REUTERS)
LONDON – The British government introduced legislation to parliament on Tuesday which would require key public services to maintain minimum safety levels during strike action by workers.
Britain is experiencing a wave of industrial action as pay rises fail to keep up with double-digit inflation, which is now around 40-year highs. Nurses, ambulance staff and rail workers are among those who have staged walkouts.
Talks between government ministers and trade unions on Monday failed to produce a breakthrough to avert further planned strikes.
READ MORE: Thousands of UK ambulance staff to stage more strikes in January
The government has said it will consult on minimum safety levels to be set for fire, ambulance and rail services as part of the new law. Other sectors covered by the bill include health services, education, nuclear decommissioning and border security.
Trade unions have reacted angrily to the plans, arguing evidence from other countries shows such legislation forces unions to use other tactics, prolonging disputes
"The British people need to know that when they have a heart attack, a stroke or a serious injury, that an ambulance will turn up and that if they need hospital care, they have access to it," business minister Grant Shapps told parliament.
"I'm introducing a bill that will give government power to ensure the vital public services will have to maintain a basic function by delivering minimum safety levels ensuring that lives and livelihoods are not lost."
READ MORE: British nurses walk out again, threaten further strikes in pay dispute
Trade unions have reacted angrily to the plans, arguing evidence from other countries shows such legislation forces unions to use other tactics, prolonging disputes.
"This is an attack on human rights and civil liberties which we will oppose in the courts, parliament and the workplace," Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said.
"This law could make effective strike action illegal, and workers may be sacked for exercising their right to withdraw their labor."
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Trade union umbrella group the Trade Unions Congress described the bill as undemocratic and unworkable, calling on members of parliament to reject it.
The bill will not be debated on Tuesday and could take months to become law. The opposition Labor Party has said it would repeal the law if it comes to power in a national election expected next year.