THE UK GOVERNMENT has announced its intention to introduce new legislation on industrial action in key public services, whilst also inviting the leaders of unions involved in current disputes to talks.

Responding to the announcement, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, Pat Cullen, said: “Curtailing workers’ freedom to participate in lawful industrial action is always undemocratic and we will look closely at what the government releases next week.

“We will meet with ministers to see their evidence for the pay process. However, only negotiations on our dispute can avert the planned action this month and I urge the Prime Minister to show a renewed sense of urgency, grasp the nettle and negotiate with nurses without further delay.

“As for minimum staffing, last month’s action was safe for patients because of detailed discussions we chose to initiate with the NHS to protect emergency services and life-saving care. The public respected that and even ministers acknowledged our constructive approach.

“Safe staffing levels that are set in law are what we want to see year-round not just in these extreme circumstances. We’ve long campaigned for governments to be accountable for safe and effective staffing levels in the NHS and social care to prevent one nurse being left with 15, 20 or even 25 sick patients. Legislation exists in other parts of the UK and England is lagging behind.

“The evidence is unequivocal – safe staffing saves lives and having the right number of registered nurses on duty has a direct impact on the safety and quality of patient care. Today’s highly unsafe situation is what is driving our members to say ‘enough is enough’.”

Fire Brigades Union General Secretary Matt Wrack said: “The Tories are clearly hellbent on criminalising and victimising trade unions with this latest threatened onslaught on the right to strike. Britain already has among the most restrictive anti-trade union laws in the western world. It’s already a democratic outrage that workers have to pass numerous tests for strike[s] that don’t apply in local government or to MPs elected to Parliament.

“To allow exploitative and vindictive bosses to pursue trade unionists in the courts would be a highly authoritarian move, and more in keeping with the actions of a dictatorial regime. The Tories are badly misjudging the public mood with these attacks on the pay and conditions of key workers, who kept Britain going during the pandemic.

“Firefighters were among Britain’s Covid heroes. However, like millions of others, they are increasingly struggling to pay the bills as a result of the cost of living crisis caused by the Tories. Wages in the UK have stagnated for more than a decade and government policy has helped to deliver this.

“The government wants to continue to drive down wages and now wants to attack the rights of workers who stand up for themselves. The FBU and the entire trade union movement will fight this pernicious attack on workers by all means available to us.”

* Read the UK Government’s announcement here.

* Sources: Royal College of Nursing and Fire Brigades Union