Conservative Anti-Strike LawsCondemned by Lords
Senior peers have slammed the Government’s attempts to sabotage strike action, reports David Hencke
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New proposed legislation to undermine strike action by recruiting agency workers has been condemned by peers as “government by diktat” and will not be effective.
Ministers from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have rushed through laws in the face of strike action by rail unions, with the growing prospect of widespread action by teachers, NHS staff, doctors, university lecturers and Royal Mail later this year. This threat will only be heightened by the announcements today by pay review bodies of settlements likely to be half the rate of inflation.
A report by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee is highly critical of the way ministers tabled new regulations without initially providing an impact assessment of the consequences, while overriding legislation in Wales – without consulting the Senedd – which bans using agency workers to curtail strikes.
After protesting to ministers, peers did get a late impact assessment and after studying it have decided that it is inadequate and does not provide “robust evidence of its effectiveness”.
The Government has also sneaked through a huge increase in the level of fines that trade unions will face if people take unlawful strike action – such as walk outs – if there is proof that the unions encouraged it.
These laws were first introduced in 1982 by Margaret Thatcher’s Government as part of an avidly anti-union agenda.
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The new regulations increase fines for unions with more than 5,000 members from £250,000 to £1 million and for small unions with under 5,000 members from £10,000 to £50,000. The Government is justifying the increase by saying the fines have been eroded by inflation over 40 years – but have used the higher retail price inflation index rather than the consumer price index to measure the increase.
“We have made the point repeatedly – most emphatically in our November 2021 special report ‘Government by Diktat’ – that it is imperative departments should provide sufficient explanatory material, including impact assessments where required, to allow Parliament to carry out thorough and effective scrutiny of secondary legislation,” said Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Mike German, member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.
“It is highly regrettable that BEIS failed to provide an impact assessment when the draft regulations were laid before Parliament, and only complied two weeks later after being prompted to do so,” he added.
BEIS estimated that the savings to business would just be £5 million – a figure that peers declared was negligible.
The peers also say the that the Westminster Government should have conducted a proper consultation with the Welsh Government and Senedd about the change, given it was a “constitutionally sensitive matter”.
“The department only wrote to the Welsh Government on 24 June, which as we understand is after the date (23 June) on which the department originally intended to lay the draft regulation,” the peers state.
BEIS told the committee that it had given notice in 2017 about seeking to repeal the Welsh Act and that there had been a widespread consultation in 2015 about introducing laws to allow agency staff to be recruited during strikes. In the Government’s view, nothing materially had changed since that consultation.