The Minimum Services Bill seeks to divide us and to demonise, demoralise and even threaten to sack the very workforce who has tried to hold our country together over the last two difficult years. It must be scrapped. My article for Labour Outlook.
We often talk of the British value of ‘fair play’. It is defined simply and perfectly in the Cambridge Dictionary as the ‘fair and honest treatment of people.’
Indeed our commitment to upholding ‘fair play’ was so embedded in our DNA that it has run as a constant thread throughout the history of workers’ rights in Britain. The first ever trade unions demanding fair treatment of workers can be traced right back to 18th-century Britain. By the late 1800’s it was again Britain who held the first United Trades Council where Salford and Manchester Trades council organised a national meeting of trade unions which later became what is now known as the TUC.
It is also little known to many that by the 20th Century, even Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed in the right to collectively bargain, the right to strike and that trade unions act as pillars of ‘fair play’.
He even stated: “I do not believe in allowing men to be pitted against each other ruthlessly until the last drop of energy is extracted, and there the trade unions come in as safeguards and checks.”
Sadly however his own party no longer shares with him this fundamental belief. The Government’s Minimum Services Bill intends to rip up those safeguards and checks and with them that precious value of ‘fair play’.
This is a bill that threatens key workers with the sack for simply exercising their right to raise the alarm on low pay, erosion of terms and conditions, and grave concerns over the safety and future of their sectors.
And worse still, the Government does this in full knowledge that the proposals in the bill are almost certainly illegal. That includes breaching the Human Rights Act, the European Convention on Human Rights, International Labour Organisation conventions and various other statutes.
It is therefore no surprise then that the Government has failed to publish any impact assessments….they know what they would say.
They shamefully claim that the reason this legislation is needed is because NHS trade unions were not providing minimum service agreements on strike days. This just isn’t true. Our ambulance workers, like our nurses have never gone on strike without first putting agreements for ‘life and limb cover’ in place.
The Government even tries to claim that countries across Europe already have this type of legislation in place. However, what they fail to explain is that minimum service levels elsewhere in Europe are achieved through strong social partnerships where trade union rights haven’t been smashed like have in the UK over the last 40 years under varying Conservative Governments, and where collective bargaining is respected and widespread, not via sweeping authoritarian diktats from Government Ministers.
And what is even more absurd is the notion that this Bill will somehow reduce the propensity for strike action. We only need to look back at recent history to know that such authoritarian legislation has the opposite effect. Order 1305 which banned strike action during the second world war actually had the effect of increasing levels of strike action.
But the Government knows all of this, so the question is: why are they even attempting to pull such an undemocratic and frankly despotic stunt?
The answer is: they want to shut down current key worker disputes and to frighten such workers away from the negotiating table.
Even worse, they seek to divide a nation and demonise, demoralise and even threaten to sack the very workforce who has tried to hold our country together over the last 2 difficult years.
Instead of this bill, the Government should be listening to the concerns of key workers and they should be facilitating constructive negotiation. That is ‘fair play’ and as a nation that has historically been proud to uphold this fundamental value we must offer them nothing less.