On Monday, Tory MPs voted through the first stages of a Bill to impose minimum service levels on workers across England, Scotland and Wales. Under these proposals, Ministers would be handed new power to order compulsory ‘work notices’ on striking workers, who could then be sacked for going on strike.
I proudly voted against these measures and have made no secret of the fact that I think they’re unnecessary, unworkable and all-in-all pretty shoddy.
The Government has claimed that they’re rushing through this undemocratic legislation to guarantee public safety, but that just doesn’t wash.
Take NHS staff, for example. Unions already work with Trusts across the country to agree emergency cover during strike action. We’ve all seen the footage of staff breaking picket lines to care for unwell people. If the Government is so concerned about patient safety, what is it doing to tackle soaring ambulance waiting times and A&E waiting lists on non-strike days? Why isn’t it recruiting and retaining more staff?
Strike action is a last resort for our public service workers. Not only do they lose pay, but – and as I know from my own interactions with NHS staff in Tameside – our public services are staffed in the main by people who are wholly committed to supporting the public. The Government could have averted NHS staff strikes if they had met with nurses and discussed – just discussed – pay. They refused. It’s time we saw some minimum service levels from this Government.
In the darkest days of the pandemic, I stood on the doorstep of my home in Denton and clapped NHS staff. I saw families emerge from their homes brandishing pots and pans and banging them as loudly as they could to thank people working around the clock to save lives. It is totally beyond belief that the Prime Minister has now gone from clapping to sacking our NHS staff.
Put aside the moral issues with this strategy. Think about the practical ones, too. The NHS is suffering an acute workforce shortage – why on earth would sacking essential staff help? The answer is it wouldn’t.
The people I represent here in Tameside deserve serious solutions to a serious problem. Proper investment in our NHS, a transport system that works for them, and access to high-quality education for their kids. This Bill is simply a distraction tactic from a Tory Government out of road and out of ideas, and I won’t fall for it.