Further restrictions on the right to strike will ‘only drag the UK further away from democratic norms’, they say.

Trade unions representing more than 20 million workers across the European continent have slammed the Tory government’s attack on the fundamental right to strike.

Unions from France, Germany, Italy and Spain have issued a joint statement condemning the government’s anti-strike legislation (Minimum Services Bill), saying that further restrictions on the right to strike will ‘only drag the UK further away from democratic norms, risk violating international law, and tarnish its international reputation.’

The government has repeatedly claimed that its anti-strike legislation will bring the UK into line with other European countries, citing the examples of France, Italy and Spain. However, major unions in the countries have now condemned the government’s plans.

The anti-strike legislation would mean that when workers democratically and lawfully vote to strike in health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning, they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply.

As the anti-strikes Bill begins its journey through the House of Lords this week, a joint statement by the general secretaries of nine European trade unions wholly rejects the government’s claims that the legislation would bring the UK into line with Europe.

The French, German, Italian and Spanish unions highlighted the marked differences in laws governing unions and workers in disputes in their countries, compared to the UK.

They say “the fundamental right to strike is protected by constitutional and other means in all other advanced European democracies.

“Unlike workers in the UK, workers in Spain, Italy, France and Germany enjoy the protection of national sectoral collective bargaining agreements setting minimum standards on workers’ rights for whole industries.

“These agreements are underpinned by the freedom to take strike action without disproportionate restrictions.”

The European unions also say that the UK government should be prioritising a decent pay rise for public sector workers to fix the staffing crisis across our public services.

The TUC has accused the government of investing far more time and energy in steamrollering this Bill through parliament than on resolving industrial disputes.

TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said: “The right to strike is a fundamental freedom – but the Conservative government is attacking it in broad daylight. No one should face the sack for trying to win a better deal at work.

“This legislation would mean that when workers democratically vote to strike, they could be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply.

“The UK already has some of the most restrictive anti-union laws in Europe.

“That’s why major unions in France, Spain, Germany and Italy have slammed this draconian bill.

“They know that the strikes bill will only serve to drag the UK even further away from European democratic norms.

“The legislation is undemocratic, unworkable and almost certainly illegal. And crucially, it could poison industrial relations and exacerbate disputes rather than help resolve them.”

ETUC General Secretary Esther Lynch said: “The claim that restricting the right to strike would bring the UK into line with ‘European norms’ would be laughable if its consequences for democracy and working people weren’t so grave.

“The UK’s draconian restrictions on the right to strike are part of an antagonistic approach to industrial relations which has produced the biggest social conflict in a generation.

“It stands in stark contrast to the system of social dialogue between unions, employers and government which is the norm in the countries picked by UK government and across Europe.

“If the UK government genuinely wants to bring its industrial relations into line with European norms, they would support sectoral collective bargaining for all workers and regularly sit down for negotiations with union representatives.”

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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