Trade unions threaten to flout new law that ensures minimum service during strikes

unions strikes

Unions are plotting a resistance campaign that could prolong the disruption crippling public services – Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Trade unions are threatening to flout new laws that would ensure minimum service levels during strikes.

Organisations representing more than two million rail workers, teachers and other public service staff are planning to “explore options for non-compliance and resistance” to avoid having to instruct their members to cross picket lines.

Ministers have introduced new legislation to enforce a basic degree of coverage during strikes across key public sectors.

It means employers will be able to dismiss staff who refuse to turn up to work when ordered to, while unions failing to meet minimum levels could face legal action.

But the plan risks being scuppered by a group of unions plotting a resistance campaign that could prolong the disruption crippling public services.

The proposals include establishing a “special congress” to look at potential ways to circumvent the new laws.

The unions also plan to urge employers, local authorities and devolved governments to refuse to draw on new powers to force striking staff to come to work, as part of a bid to render the minimum service levels “inoperable”.

It is understood the unions intend to act within the law.

‘Dictatorial and wrong’

The plot is contained in a motion laid by teachers’ union NASUWT at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) annual conference, which gets underway on Saturday.

It states that the TUC must use “all means necessary” to defeat the “unjust” new laws, including legally challenging the legislation.

It says: “Congress agrees that we have no choice but to build mass opposition to the [minimum service level] laws, up to and including a strategy of non-compliance and non-cooperation to make them unworkable, including industrial action.”

The motion calls on the TUC to organise a “special congress” to “explore options for non-compliance and resistance” and mobilise support for any union whose members are sanctioned for refusing to abide by the new rules.

It is backed by the UK’s largest public service union, Unison, as well as the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), National Education Union, Fire Brigades Union and British Dental Association. If passed, as expected, it would become official TUC policy.

Mick Lynch, head of the RMT, criticised the new laws as “dictatorial and wrong”.

He told The Telegraph: “If workers are not allowed strike to use as leverage at the negotiating table for better pay terms and conditions, then what is the point of the trade union movement?

“It is a basic democratic right for workers to be able to legally and effectively withdraw their labour. Otherwise, we become little more than serfs.”

‘Pernicious and spiteful attack’

Patrick Roach, the NASUWT general secretary, said: “We are committed to using all legitimate means at our disposal to challenge and resist this pernicious and spiteful attack on workers’ rights.”

The Strikes (Minimum Service Level) Act became law in July, with rail minister Huw Merriman insisting it would “help give passengers certainty that they will be able to make important journeys on a strike day”.

But the TUC vowed to fight it “tooth and nail”, and claimed it would damage workers’ rights. Labour has pledged to repeal the legislation if it gets into power.

The Act had been caught in the parliamentary tussle between the Commons and Lords known as ping-pong, with peers concerned about the lack of detail within the legislation.

A Government source said minimum service levels “will restore the balance between the ability to strike and the public’s right to access essential services during a strike”.

“The Government has made generous pay offers and many unions have recognised this,” they added.

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