Rishi Sunak poised to announce anti-strike laws allowing employers to sue unions and sack staff

Rishi Sunak is poised to announce legislation which would curb the right to strike

Watch more of our videos on Shots!
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Anti-strike legislation that would allow employers to sue unions and sack staff is expected to be brought forward this week, reports suggest.

The Times reports that Rishi Sunak is poised to announce new legislation to enforce “minimum service levels” in six sectors, including the health service, rail, education, fire and border security.

The laws, which could be announced as soon as Thursday (5 January), will require a proportion of union members to continue working to retain a “minimum level” of service, thereby minimising disruption to public services.

It is understood that strikes would be deemed illegal if unions refused to provide the minimum service level, according to a government source involved in the discussions.

The laws would see employers have the right to sue unions, while union members who were told to work under the minimum service requirement but refused to do so could also be dismissed, according to The Times. Tougher thresholds for industrial action to take place are also likely to be introduced.

Rishi Sunak is poised to announce legislation which would curb the right to strike (Photo: Getty Images)Rishi Sunak is poised to announce legislation which would curb the right to strike (Photo: Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak is poised to announce legislation which would curb the right to strike (Photo: Getty Images)

A source told the newspaper: “This legislation will remove the legal immunity for strikes where unions fail to implement a minimum level of service. The strikes will be illegal. Ultimately people could be fired for breach of contract.”

A government spokesman said it was “not our intention to penalise individuals” and that the legislation was about ensuring that essential services would be protected.

The Prime Minister said on Wednesday (4 January) that the “right to strike has to be balanced with the right of the British public to be able to go about their lives without suffering completely undue disruption”, adding that new laws would restore the balance.

Anti-strike plans ‘shameful’

The reported plans to curb the right to strike have been branded as “shameful” by Labour, with the party saying the proposals are “offensive” and “unworkable”.

Angela Rayner, Deputy Labour Leader, said: “It’s frankly shameful that this mess of a government thinks that threatening to sack nurses and teachers will stop strikes. These proposals are offensive, unserious and unworkable.

“The government should be focussing on fixing its economic crisis and stop its divisive attacks on working people. Labour will turn the page on the Tories’ failed approach to industrial relations.”

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer said on Thursday that Labour would likely repeal any anti-strike legislation brought in by Sunak’s government. Asked about the issue by Times Radio, Sir Keir said: “Frankly, the government is all over the show on this. Every day there is a different briefing as to whether there is going to be legislation, what it is going to be and when it is going to come.

“I think there is a reason for that and that is because I don’t think this legislation is going to work. I am pretty sure they have had an assessment that tells them that it is likely to make a bad situation worse.

“Obviously we will look at what they bring forward, but if it is further restrictions then we would repeal it and the reason for that is I do not think that legislation is the way that you bring an end to industrial disputes.”

It comes as the government grapples to resolve a wave of ongoing industrial disputes this winter across a range of sectors, including the rail network and the NHS.

In his first major speech of 2023, Sunak said the issues facing A&E and strikes were “at the forefront of everyone’s minds”, adding that the government is “taking urgent action”. He said: “I know there are challenges in A&E – people are understandably anxious when they see ambulances queuing outside hospitals.

“You should know we’re taking urgent action: increasing bed capacity by 7,000 more hospital beds and more people cared for at home; providing new funding to discharge people into social care and the community, freeing up beds and the NHS are working urgently on further plans for A&E and ambulances.”