Thank you for writing me about the strikes and related matters.
Trade union laws are designed to support an effective and collaborative approach to resolving industrial disputes. I support the right to strike, as does the Government. This should, however, be a last resort.
As you may be aware, the Government is not responsible for decisions on pay. Well-established independent pay review processes are the right way to set public sector pay – they provide independent, expert advice and are a neutral process in which all parties play a role.
That said, the Government recognises the particular economic challenges the country faces this year. A balance must be struck between giving workers a fair and reasonable settlement and taking steps to continue to bring down inflation and protect households’ budgets. In this time of economic difficulties, inflation-matching pay awards that many of the unions are demanding will make the fight against inflation more challenging, risking interest rates, mortgage payments and bills rising for people as a result. This would erode the value of any pay increase for public sector workers and hurt households across the country.
Nevertheless, the Government hugely respects and values the work of our public sector workers, and it is committed to avoid prolonged industrial action. We must resolve the strikes and deliver on the promise of halving inflation and reducing debt. Therefore, the Government has been inviting trade unions to meet for honest, constructive conversations about what is fair and affordable in public sector pay settlements for 2023-24, and Secretaries of State have been inviting unions to sit down and discuss the evidence that the Government will be submitting to the pay review bodies.
The rights of some workers to strike must be balanced against the rights of the wider public to get on with their daily lives. Strikes can, and do, cause significant disruption. That is particularly the case when they take place in important public services such as transport or education. It cannot be right that trade unions can, as we saw in the case of the recent rail strikes, seek to hold the country to ransom if their demands are not met.
The Government also has a duty to the public to ensure their safety, protect their access to vital public services, and help them go about their daily lives. Therefore, the Government has introduced the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill for vital public services including health, education, fire and rescue, transport, nuclear decommissioning, and border security to maintain critical and in many cases life-saving services.
The Government will consult first on MSLs for ambulances, fire, and rail. Whilst the Bill contains provisions for other parts of the NHS, education, nuclear decommissioning, and border security, it is my understanding that the Government hopes that voluntary agreements will continue to be sufficient.
This new legislation will allow the Government, NHS, the public and other services to plan properly for the running of services in times of strike – and ensure that striking workers are not inadvertently putting the public at risk. This package of measures will see the UK align with many countries across the world such as France and Spain that already have minimum service agreements in place, to prevent large swathes of their economies being ground to a halt by industrial action.
Thank you again for writing to me and bringing your views and concerns to my attention. Please be assured that I will be monitoring the talks and negotiations, and any developments, very closely indeed, and I will be taking the views and concerns shared with me by constituents into careful consideration going forward.
With best wishes.
Jonathan Lord MP
Member of Parliament for Woking