A flagship government law aimed at making it more difficult for unions to go on strike has been criticized as a failure after train drivers staged a major walkout. Members of the Aslef union are set to engage in industrial action over the next week, citing a dispute over pay.
Despite the passage of the Minimum Service Level Act by parliament last year, the strike is expected to cause chaos on the rail network. The law grants train companies and other employers the authority to require 40% of their workforce to remain on duty to minimize disruption for passengers.
Last year, Rishi Sunak emphasized the need for a long-term solution, stating, “We cannot continue relying on short-term fixes, such as calling on our armed forces or civil servants, to mitigate the disruption caused by strike action.
That’s why we’re making the right decision to implement minimum service levels, in line with other countries, to ensure people’s safety and the uninterrupted delivery of vital public services that hard-working individuals depend on.”
However, the train companies involved in this week’s rail dispute have chosen not to utilize the law, expressing concerns that it may exacerbate tensions between management and workers, potentially prolonging industrial disputes.
Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesperson, held the government responsible for the ongoing cycle of strikes, asserting, “Every day our country witnesses another strike, making a mockery of Rishi Sunak’s Minimum Service Level Bill.
Conservative ministers must urgently find a solution to strikes instead of pursuing a tedious and divisive Bill.” During an appearance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, housing minister Lee Rowley faced scrutiny over the government’s latest failure.
Presenter Susanna Reid confronted him, stating, “The legislation you introduced for minimum services doesn’t work. The union is doing its job, but what is the government doing?”
In response, the minister expressed disappointment in the union’s actions, claiming, “Unions have a choice about whether to act responsibly or not. I don’t think Aslef is acting responsibly today; they are inconveniencing commuters.”
Former Tory minister Caroline Nokes also acknowledged the ineffectiveness of the legislation, stating on the BBC’s Politics Live, “The stark reality is that the legislation clearly isn’t working; it isn’t delivering what Grant Shapps promised in enabling people to get to work.
I don’t know whether that means going back to the drawing board or making amendments, but it does seem farcical that we expected this to work when it hasn’t.”
When asked about the prime minister’s disappointment regarding train bosses’ failure to utilize the new law, his spokesman confirmed, “Yes, we and the public expect them to use it.
We have consistently made it clear that this legislation is available for train operators to use. Rail operators called for its implementation many months ago, and the public rightly expects it to be used when strike action occurs.”