Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announces crackdown on union strikes with minimum service levels for key industries

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Unions will have their powers to maintain strike action diminished under new laws designed to prevent walk-outs from causing disruption.

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced plans to legislate to force unions to put pay offers from employers to a vote of members so strikes can only take place once negotiations have broken down.

And he confirmed he would move to force minimum service levels during train strikes to prevent unions bringing public rail networks to a standstill.

The unions have accused the Government of trying to bully members and said the threats would only serve to “enrage” workers.

Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh said her party was opposed to minimum service levels, arguing that the right to withdraw work was “fundamental”.

Amid ongoing industrial action on rail networks, as well as threats of strikes from workers in other industries, Mr Kwarteng said it was “unacceptable” that unions were causing disruption.

He said other European countries had minimum service levels – which requires striking staff to work for a certain number of hours – to prevent “militant” unions closing down transport systems.

Ms Kwarteng vowed to do the same, “and go further”, by “legislat[ing] to require unions to put pay offers to a vote to ensure strikes are only called once negotiations have genuinely broken down.”

Shortly after the Chancellor’s announcement, members of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) confirmed they would strike on 1 October in the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

This means all major rail unions are due to strike over that weekend – during the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham – which could lead to a complete shutdown of the network.

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union, said: “The Government should be working towards a negotiated settlement in the national rail dispute, not seeking to make it even harder to take effective strike action.

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“RMT and other unions will not sit idly by or meekly accept any further obstacles on their members exercising the basic human right to withdraw their labour.”

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the TSSA, said strikes were “a last resort” and argued that having to ballot members on pay offers would “not make a blind bit of difference”.

“If the offer is rubbish, it will still be rubbish whether our elected workplace reps have consulted our members on it or a ballot has taken place,” he said.

“This new Tory proposal will serve only to elongate disputes and generate greater anger among union members. It will do precisely nothing to encourage employers to come to the negotiating table with realistic offers.”

Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union said: “The Government has once again confirmed that they are hell-bent on trying to prevent workers from defending their jobs, pay and working conditions.

“We would expect no better from a Government that has had such disregard for their international commitments and obligations.

“With the deep recruitment and retention crisis facing our schools and colleges, the Government must take seriously the anger of teachers and headteachers rather than seeking to intimidate and bully experienced teachers out of the profession.”

Labour’s Ms Haigh said the UK “already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in the western world” and said the Government was “undermin[ing] workers’ rights” rather than dealing with low pay.

“The right to withdraw your labour are fundamental rights, it means working people can stand up for decent services and safety at work – or defend their jobs or pay,” she said.

“The Conservatives’ failure to tackle the cost of living crisis means working people across the country are facing an economic emergency, yet rather than help working people through this crisis, the Tories are dreaming up reckless, unworkable proposals which make it harder still for working people to defend themselves.”

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