THE TORIES are set to mobilise their new anti-strikes law against railway workers and their unions as further strike action takes place during the coming weeks.
Last Friday, the Parliamentary Transport Select Committee announced what it described as ‘principles’ that should be applied in the implementation of the new Strikes Minimum Service Levels Act 2023 in relation to rail strikes.
This further escalation follows Health Secretary Barclay’s announcement last Tuesday that he is going to use the new law against the BMA doctors’ union when they strike again next month.
The transport committee indicated that signallers and those with responsibility to support disabled passengers are to be among the first railway workers to be threatened with the sack if they strike.
Transport Committee chairman Iain Stewart MP said last Friday: ‘This committee questioned an array of witnesses from the rail sector and we consistently heard that they were waiting for clarity from the government on how minimum service levels might be set, how routes should be prioritised, how safety could be guaranteed and which types of staff might be needed.
‘It became apparent that the government needs to make the first move. Only then will stakeholders be able to feed back on the practicalities, so that regulations can be fine-tuned and plans drawn up.
‘We therefore say to the Department for Transport, once it has determined which model of minimum service level it plans to implement, that it must consult properly with the industry and carefully build on the response it receives.
‘Meanwhile, in the absence of plans for us to scrutinise, the committee has put forward nine tests for the government that should give any future regulations a realistic chance of working for passengers, rail staff and companies, as well as the wider economy which suffers whenever strikes are called.
‘Among the most vital of those nine tests are around safety and accessibility.
‘We can’t accept an increased risk of lives being put in danger due to a lack of key staff such as signallers, or of those with access needs being neglected if they experience difficulty.’
The rail unions responded defiantly.
Members of the drivers’ union Aslef in 16 train operators will strike on September 30 and October 4th, coinciding with the Tory Party Conference.
Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, said: ‘There is no way, organisationally, that we can comply with the steps in the consultation papers but, of course, that is the purpose – to take away the voice of British workers.
‘Most of the nine tests set out by the committee are not achieved now so cannot, and will not, be achieved under minimum service levels (MSLs) and any belief that it will improve industrial relations in any way is utterly naive.
‘More importantly, how many lives will be put at risk by trying to run the railway, a safety-critical industry, with MSLs?’
Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) interim general secretary Peter Pendle said: ‘The public will see these proposals for what they are – a belated attempt to make this unfair and undemocratic legislation look palatable.
‘But nothing can hide the fact that this law is designed by a hypocritical Tory government to take away workers’ fundamental right to strike.
‘One of these recommendations is to pay staff more if they have to work on strike days – a blatant attempt to bribe people to scab.’
Transport union RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that the profoundly flawed legislation will inevitably lead to more chaos on the railways and increase safety risks.
‘Instead of attacking workers right to strike the government should spend its energy on resolving the national rail disputes.
‘We have reached settlement in Scotland and Wales which demonstrates that the real reason for the current dispute is the union-busting agenda of the UK government.’