Rayner declares minimum service levels bill “not just insulting, but utterly stupid” – LabourList

Angela Rayner has declared that the government’s minimum service levels bill is “not just insulting, but utterly stupid”, arguing that it is ministers who are “failing” to provide “minimum standards, service and staffing” in essential services.

Addressing the Commons this afternoon ahead of the bill’s first reading, the deputy Labour leader denounced the legislation as an “outright attack on the fundamental freedom of British working people” and accused the government of “playing politics with nurses’ and teachers’ lives”.

In a statement to MPs on industrial action, Grant Shapps claimed that ministers “absolutely believe in the right to strike” but are “duty bound to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people”.

The Business Secretary said the minimum services legislation was a “common-sense approach”, telling MPs: “We do not want to use this legislation, but we must ensure the safety of the British public.”

Shapps said the legislation would affect six sectors, “each of them critical for keeping the British people safe and society functioning”, specifically health, education, fire rescue, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning.

Responding to the statement, Rayner said: “We’ve seen ambulance workers go on their first major strike in 30 years. The first strike ever in the history of the Royal College of Nursing. Teachers, pharmacists and civil servants, among others, balloting as we speak.

“His government offers no solution, because they have caused the problem. The economic crisis made in Downing Street of sky-high inflation and recession has left working people facing an economic emergency.”

“How is the government responding to the crisis of their own making? Not with any attempt to reach a serious, long-term solution in the public interest. But by playing politics and promising yet another sticking plaster,” she argued.

Rayner declared: “How he goes on with one breathe thanking nurses to sacking nurses, Mr Speaker – not just insulting, but utterly stupid. There’s no common sense about this at all.”

She added: “The public is being put at risk every day due to the government’s NHS crisis and staffing shortages. He is right that it is his government’s duty to protect the public’s access to essential services.

“But livelihoods and lives are already being lost. We all want minimum standards, service and staffing. It is the ministers failing to provide it.”

The government published the full text of the bill this afternoon. The legislation proposes to give the Business Secretary the power to set minimum service levels during strikes in key sectors, with employers then instructing unions on how many workers will be required on strikes days to meet that level.

According to the explanatory notes accompanying the bill, employers would inform unions of required staffing levels via work notices. The notes state: “Work notices are the mechanism that puts minimum service levels into practice for particular strikes in relevant services.

“The work notice may be given by the employer to the trade union and will identify the people required to work to secure that the levels of service set out in the minimum service regulations are provided on a strike day.”

Under the law, unions would be required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure members comply with the notice and could be sued if they fail to do so, though they would only be liable for damages caused by their decision not to comply with the legislation, not for those that the employer would have suffered anyway.

Striking workers would lose their protection from unfair dismissal if the work notice says they should be working, provided that their employer has given them notice before the strike day of the “work specified in the work notice that they are required to carry out” and a “statement that they must comply with that work notice”.

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