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 Lord Callanan Lord Callanan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Energy Security and Net Zero) 5:15, 23 March 2023

My Lords, I am grateful to those who have contributed to the debate.

It should go without saying that, to achieve a minimum service level, employers, employees and trade unions all have a part to play, and the Bill makes clear what those respective roles are. As many Members have quoted, unions are required to take “reasonable steps” to ensure that the union members named in the work notice comply with the notice. If they do not, they will lose protection from legal claims.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, I say that there are a range of steps that trade unions could take, and what is considered reasonable can depend, as my noble friend Lady Noakes made clear, on each specific situation. First and foremost, a trade union should not call a union member identified in a work notice as required to work on a particular day out on strike that day. The trade union could also encourage those individual members to comply with the work notice and make it clear in its general communication with workers that, where members are named in a work notice and therefore required to work on a particular day, they should work on that particular strike day.

Before turning to the individual amendments, I will respond to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Fox, about what would happen if a number of the workforce are sick on the day of the strike. As I indicated to the noble Lord from a sedentary position, the responsibility of the unions is to take “reasonable steps”, as it says in the Bill. If union members named in a work notice are off sick, it is not the responsibility of the trade unions to find other members to take their place; it is the responsibility of employers to ensure that enough work notices are issued to fulfil that minimum service level.

Amendments 34 and 34A seek to diminish the responsibility of unions to take reasonable steps to ensure that their members who are named on a work notice actually attend work rather than participating in strike action. These amendments would remove any obligation on the trade unions to notify their members of the need to comply with a work notice and not to take part in the strike, which, in my view, would reduce the likelihood that a minimum service level will be maintained or achieved. Therefore, the Government are unable to accept them.

Amendment 33 goes further and seeks to ensure that unions have no responsibility whatever for ensuring that their members comply if they have been named on a work notice. It also ensures that there are no consequences for failing to meet that responsibility. I submit that that is an attempt to disrupt the balance between the ability to strike and the rights and freedoms of others, and therefore the Government cannot accept the amendment.

If a union member does not cross a picket line when identified on a work notice, this will of course negatively affect the employer’s ability to achieve the minimum service level at all. The picket line is usually a critical place for a union to exercise persuasion over its members, and we have seen some egregious examples of that. However, the Bill and the achievement of minimum service levels would be substantially undermined if the union’s obligations did not extend to picketing, and therefore we cannot accept Amendment 35.

The responsibility of the union to take reasonable steps is a continuing one, because the impact on the public is the same if a minimum service level is not achieved, whether or not that results from picketing activities. Therefore, the Government cannot accept these amendments, which would significantly reduce the responsibilities of trade unions. Our view, which is reflected in the legislation, is that they need to play their part in ensuring that essential services continue during strikes. As always, we encourage unions to act responsibly and to fulfil their statutory duty that will be established by the Bill if it becomes law. I therefore hope that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will withdraw his amendment.