Daily Mail

Strike-busting laws will avert festive chaos for rail passengers

- By David Churchill Chief Political Correspond­ent

RAIL passengers will be spared another festive season of chaos under new strike-busting laws to be unveiled today.

Ministers will bring forward legislatio­n aimed at smashing the power of rail unions by forcing them to run at least 40 per cent of trains on strike days.

And those who don’t could face paying £1million in damages.

The ‘minimum service levels’ laws will come into force at the beginning of December, subject to the expected parliament­ary approval.

This means they would be in force in time to stop plots to shut down the rail network again this Christalso mas and New Year.

They will also cover Border Force and ambulance staff, in a bid to prevent chaos at passport control when holidaymak­ers return and ensure lifethreat­ening incidents are attended during walkouts.

Last night Rishi Sunak said: ‘We are doing everything in our power to stop unions derailing Christmas for millions of people.

‘This legislatio­n will ensure more people will be able to travel to see their friends and family and get the emergency care they need.’

The Prime Minister added: ‘We cannot go on relying on short-term fixes – including calling on our Armed Forces or civil servants – to mitigate the disruption caused by strike action.’

The RMT union sparked fury last year by ordering several strikes in December and January in a bid to hit those travelling over the festive period.

This led to the union’s boss Mick Lynch being nicknamed ‘Mick Grinch’.

The RMT voted for a further six-month strike mandate last month. The festive period is in the crosshairs of Aslef, the train drivers’ union.

At the moment, around 20 per cent of services run on RMT strike days and less than 10 per cent during Aslef walk outs, although regional variations mean many places are left with no trains at all.

But the new laws would enable a guaranteed level of service if strikes are called.

It will bring Britain into line with countries such as France, Italy, Spain and America, where public services reliably continue during strikes. Ministers could also bring forward legislatio­n for teachers, firefighte­rs and other NHS staff.

The laws will put more clear water between the Conservati­ves and Labour ahead of the next election.

Labour has vowed to repeal them if it wins and to go further by repealing the Trade Union Act 2016, making it easier for unions to call strikes.

Union bosses last night accused the Government of launching an ‘attack’ on workers by trying to ‘criminalis­e’ striking, and warning it could escalate action.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the measures would ‘reduce disruption for passengers while ensuring workers can still exercise their ability to strike’.

And Health Secretary Steve Barclay added: ‘These regulation­s provide a safety net for [NHS] trusts and an assurance to the public that vital emergency services will be there when they need them.’

But Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner blasted the move, saying: ‘This government’s failed approach has led to the worst strikes in decades and now they’re getting their excuses in early for Christmas.

‘ Rishi Sunak is offering another sticking plaster to distract from the Conservati­ves’ track record of failure.’

The new laws build on the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act, which was passed in July and laid the groundwork for today’s legislatio­n.

Trade unions must give two weeks’ notice of any strikes and a week-long consultati­on would take place during this to determine what the minimum level of service should be, with the employers sending out work notices to staff.

If this was not complied with, union barons would lose their legal protection from damages claims of up to £1million. Mr Lynch said: ‘Even the Government’s own impact assessment has said that the legislatio­n could lead to more strikes so instead of attacking workers and their trade unions the Government should spend its time trying to resolve disputes not inflaming them.’

Mark Serwotka, boss of the PCS union, which represents Border Force staff, said: ‘This hostile legislatio­n is an attempt... to essentiall­y criminalis­e the act of strike action... we will have no choice but to resist this attack.’

‘Guaranteed level of service’

‘Providing a safety net’

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