Amendment 33

Part of Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 23 March 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Chakrabarti Baroness Chakrabarti Labour 5:15, 23 March 2023

My Lords, this group gives me the opportunity to speak to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. Earlier, she encouraged the Committee to be constructive when we debated whether an amendment was probing or constructive. Given the gestures from the Minister from a sedentary position, it is clear that, even if the Bill passes, there is room to specify these reasonable steps and new duties upon trade unions. That is my attempt to meet the noble Baroness half way and be constructive about a Bill that I think is hugely disproportionate.

With the greatest respect to my noble friend who just spoke, these amendments do not just expose a breach of Article 11, on freedom of association; they quite possibly expose a breach of Article 9, on freedom of conscience. I am afraid there are no right reverend Prelates here at the moment, but it is as if we were to say to the bishops, “We live in a modern, diverse democracy, even though we have an established Church, but it is now your obligation to actively encourage divorce and abortion.” Clearly, that would be ludicrous, and it is equally ludicrous to be saying to trade unions not only that, as indicated in Amendment 34, they should try to make their members aware of the legislation and of work notices, but that they should ensure compliance as well. The Government are making employers in relation to these public services the policeman for the Government, but it is a step too far to make unions the policeman for the Government as well—not least in the context of disputes which will continue to be lawful under this proposed legislation, but just some people will have to go to work.

Hence, I commend in particular Amendments 34, 34A and 35, which highlight that knowledge is one thing but ensuring compliance is another. They demonstrate at length that unions should not be disciplining their members for not going to work, and that picketing has to remain perfectly lawful, not least because most workers, we hope, or many workers, will still be entitled to go on strike, notwithstanding the minimum service levels and the specific work notices. The Bill needs to specify what is reasonable and what is required of trade unions.