London, Jan 16 (EFE).- Hundreds of people protested here Monday outside 10 Downing Street, the official residence of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, against a bill that would enforce minimum service levels during strikes in crucial sectors such as health care and public transport.
Following months of strikes by rail and postal employees, nurses, ambulance staff and other workers, British Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Grant Shapps on Monday argued in the House of Commons for the need to establish minimum service and safety levels for vital public services.
But the general secretary of the TUC trade union federation, Paul Nowak, told demonstrators gathered in downtown London that he will defend the right to strike tooth and nail.
“Make no mistake: this bill is a fundamental attack on the right to strike that will force workers across the public sector to cross picket lines or face the sack,” he said.
Zarah Sultana, a Member of Parliament for the opposition Labour Party, also addressed the demonstrators and criticized a bill that she said was anti-worker and a threat to Britons’ civil liberties.
Job actions would be deemed illegal without minimum service levels
While the protest was unfolding, Shapps was arguing just a few hundred meters away in the House of Commons that regulations are needed so unions and employers guarantee minimum service levels during strikes in sectors such as health care, rail, firefighting and education.
Those levels should be set in keeping with the “risks to public safety and the impact on daily life” of eventual strikes in each sector.
Job actions would be deemed illegal if those minimum service levels are not in place, and employers would be able to fire workers if minimum staffing levels are not met.
Shapps said the so-called Transport Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill provides “a common sense safety net” that will keep the public safe and ease anxiety triggered by a slew of job actions staged amid a soaring cost of living.
“Failing to support this bill today means that members who oppose this legislation are essentially prepared to put the safety and welfare of their own constituents at risk,” he argued.
But Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, slammed the bill in Parliament as irrational and insulting and a “vindictive assault on the basic freedoms of British working people.”
The bill cleared an initial stage in the House of Commons on Monday when it was approved by a vote of 309-249.