UNITED KINGDOM: According to government documents that were released and explain plans deemed to be perhaps the “greatest attack on workers’ rights and liberties” in decades, Rishi Sunak contemplated prohibiting thousands of employees from joining a union.
According to the Observer’s review of texts between senior civil servants, the prime minister considered prohibiting Border Force (BF) employees from joining unions as part of the anti-strike legislation he unveiled last Thursday.
Union officials worry that other industries may have also contemplated the severe measures, which could hypothetically prevent more than a million workers from joining unions. These tactics were not even known to be under consideration until recently.
“These emails reveal that while the government publicly is saying: ‘We want to resolve the dispute,’ behind the scenes they were preparing the biggest attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms that we would have seen in this country for generations,” said Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union.
The emails provided Sunak with three models to take into consideration while drafting the government’s anti-strike rules. They were created by officials and attorneys at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and shared last month with senior civil employees.
Since the police service’s strike ban, the first supported BF employees have been prohibited from joining a trade union, with striking or inciting disaffection becoming a criminal offense.
Another approach, known as a “prison service-style ban on striking,” would mimic the limits placed on prison personnel, who are also prohibited from taking industrial action, with potential concessions such as the creation of a new independent salary assessment board.
The third choice, which was made last week, was legislation to compel “minimum service levels” in public areas like the NHS, with businesses having the right to sue labour unions and fire employees if the requirements aren’t satisfied.
Last month, Downing Street received emails from senior BEIS officials stating that “We [senior BEIS officials] do not yet have a firm view on the preferred model from the PM.”
The emails, however, reveal that the most severe model—forbidding workers from joining unions—was only rejected because it could “be difficult to justify” given that UK workers were guaranteed the right to unionize under the European Convention on Human Rights.
As a result, civil servants believed the minimum service level model to be their “preferred option.”