Labour Senedd Member Joyce Watson launched a stinging attack on the UK Government’s anti-strike bill this week, saying it is designed to “destroy” public sector unions.
The UK Government has proposed giving the business secretary, Grant Shapps, powers to define “minimum service levels” in key public sectors, meaning workers could be sacked – and unions held legally responsible – for striking.
Speaking in the Welsh Parliament on Wednesday (11 Jan), the Mid and West Wales member suggested a legal minimum service level should instead be applied to government ministers, “because the current lot are dangerously incompetent.”
Answering for the Welsh Government, counsel general and minister for the constitution, Mick Antoniw, welcomed the idea – and noted Labour Leader Keir Starmer’s commitment to ban second jobs for MPs. “Maybe that’ll ensure that our MPs are working fully for the interests on which they actually have been elected,” he said.
Here is the exchange.
Joyce Watson MS:
“They’re going further than Thatcher did when she tried to destroy the miners’ union; this lot are trying to destroy all the public sector unions.
“Perhaps we could have a legal minimum safety and service level applied to the UK Government, because the current lot are dangerously incompetent. Only an exhausted party out of ideas could think that a good way to solve labour shortages and low morale in Britain’s key public services is to sack workers who strike for better pay and conditions. Who do they think would replace those workers?
“They created an economic crisis with Liz Truss—I don’t know if you can remember her. She crashed the economy, and now they’re trying to crush the workers’ right to strike. It’s an absolute affront.”
Mrs Watson continued:
“The public will see through this for what it is and that they don’t have the level of support that they’re hoping to gain by moving the blame for their failure to manage the economic crisis that they created by putting the blame firmly and squarely on the people who can now no longer afford their mortgages as a consequence of what they did, can’t put their heating on and are unable to feed themselves.”
“It is an irony, isn’t it, that the UK Government is a proponent of the free market, but the free market only when it comes to maximising the profits and directors’ pay. When the free market dictates that we are actually not paying our public sector workers enough, the response of UK Government is actually to interfere with that free market, to undermine it and to actually impose legislative restrictions on people’s ability to do anything about it.
“Can I say I very much welcome the comment that you made, that, in fact, we should have a minimum service level, and it should really apply to the UK Government? And perhaps for that reason, that’s why I actually welcome the commitment by the leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, that the next Labour Government will introduce a ban on second jobs. Maybe that’ll ensure that our MPs are working fully for the interests on which they actually have been elected.”
The Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill was introduced to parliament on Tuesday (10 Jan). On Monday, crisis talks between UK ministers and unions failed to resolve ongoing disputes with nurses, teachers and rail workers.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mrs Watson also met members of the Communications Workers Union (CWU) to discuss their ongoing dispute with Royal Mail.