Fairwork denounces Sunak government’s proposed legislation, states limiting workers’ right to strike is undemocratic

Posted on 27.01.2023
Workers on strike in the UK
"Work longer, pay more, get less, no thanks!" Workers in the UK strike for fair pay (PC: Matt Gibson, Shutterstock)

Authors: Dr Adam Badger, Sudeep Bhargava and Navneet Gidda

The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill, which aims to restrict workers’ right to strike, is making its way through the House of Commons and is expected to pass by the end of the month. If made into law, workers in numerous sectors including health, education, and transport could see the implementation of “minimum service levels” – a measure that requires union members to continue working during a strike. Further, the legislation would remove protections provided to striking workers, allowing employers to fire workers who choose to strike. 

The bill comes after the U.K. experienced a record amount of industrial action in recent months, driven by inadequate pay amid the cost of living crisis alongside rising inflation. Oppositional MPs and trade unions have condemned the bill for its attack on workers’ rights, stating that workers should be able to withhold their labour in unfair conditions. Instead of listening to the demands of workers, Rishi Sunak’s government is exacerbating the position in which workers find themselves. 

Despite claims by Sunak and Business Secretary Grant Shapps, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) does not endorse these measures and emphasises the danger in coercing workers to accept subpar conditions. 

While most gig workers were considered ‘key workers’ throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering vital supplies to homes and shuttling healthcare workers to hospitals, their “self-employed” status means they are unable to organise with the same safety and security of employed workers. Regardless of this fact, the proposed legislation threatens to set an undemocratic precedent in the workplace that undermines the rights of all workers. Even in the event of other forms of collective organising or bargaining, gig workers could be deprived of any protections under the law. Gig workers already struggle with uncertainties and unavailability of work, and going on strike under the proposed bill could potentially make matters worse.

Without adequate protection from either a union or the law, platform workers have even less options available to them when faced with inadequate pay or unfair working conditions. Instead of penalising workers for exercising their democratic right to organise, Fairwork calls on the British government to meet workers’ demands and build a more just gig economy.

Fairwork supports unions and the fundamental right to strikeFor resources and information regarding options available to workers, unions, and consumers, visit the following pages:

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