BUSINESS secretary Grant Shapps has presented anti-strike legislation to the Commons which will require some public service employees to continue working during industrial action.

The bill has been branded "extreme and heavy-handed" by the SNP who have said the Tories and Rishi Sunak are "vying to outdo [Margaret] Thatcher" in their contempt for workers who keep the country running.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to fight the proposals "every step of the way" as she emphasised the need for employment law to be devolved. 

In presenting the legislation, Shapps said granting public sector workers settlements that fall outside the independent pay review process “isn’t the sensible way to proceed” and wouldn’t provide a fair outcome, while saying the government had a duty to protect the livelihoods of the British public.

The bill will require certain sectors to meet minimum safety levels during industrial action. This is something that was already promised in the Conservative manifesto in 2019 for public transport but the government is now looking to extend this to other areas such as health, border security, education, fire and rescue and nuclear decommissioning.

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Shapps – who was heckled by MPs in the Commons throughout his statement – described the move by the government as a “common sense” one, pointing out that other countries including France and Spain had similar rules in place.

But opposition parties and unions have slated the legislation, with the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union general secretary Mick Lynch describing it as an “attack on human rights”.

Sturgeon said the right to strike is fundamental in a democracy and insisted taking away workers' right was not the way to resolve disputes.

She said: "Unfortunately, employment law is reserved to Westminster but I don’t believe that should be the case. I think it should be the responsibility of Holyrood.

“I oppose that legislation. I believe that while I don’t want to see workers having to take strike action, the right to strike is a fundamental right in a democracy.

“And the way you resolve industrial disputes is by negotiations, not by legislating to take away workers’ rights.

“This is a Conservative government that has proven itself in the past to be no friend of workers and to be willing to take away workers’ rights.

“The SNP both at Holyrood and Westminster will oppose this anti-trade union, anti-worker legislation every step of the way.”

In the Commons, the SNP's Chris Stephens pointed out trade unions are already legally obliged to provide life and limb cover but Shapps still maintained there needed to be a "simple answer" to what the national level of emergency cover is in the "most urgent" of situations.

Stephens added: “Yet again Rishi Sunak and the Tories are vying to outdo Thatcher in their contempt for the workers who keep this country running, this time proposing a clamping down on the rights protecting hard-working staff.

“Square in the firing line are Scottish workers, who as a result of consistent refusals from Westminster to fully devolve employment law, face a stripping back of their basic rights.

The National: Chris Stephens said the Tories have presented 'extreme' legislation which is an 'assault' on workersChris Stephens said the Tories have presented 'extreme' legislation which is an 'assault' on workers (Image: Getty)

“Extreme, heavy-handed legislation isn’t the solution to industrial disputes, getting round the table with striking workers is. Instead, the Tories have declared open war on ordinary people fighting for better working conditions.

“The SNP Scottish Government has left no stone unturned to find a solution to disputes in Scotland, and not once have proposed legislation that would wholly attack the workers involved in industrial action – an approach the Tories should learn from.

“If Westminster continues ahead with their assault on workers, all while ignoring calls to devolve employment law, it’ll serve as a further reminder that Scots face constant attack from the Tories, a problem only the full powers of independence can solve.”

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The SNP's Alan Brown also said the legislation "stinks" and that the UK Government was forcing ordinary people to pay for its mistakes. 

To meet minimum staffing levels employers would be able to issue a "work notice" stating the workforce they need. Employees named on the work notice would lose their right to protection from unfair dismissal if they then joined a walkout.

Shapps said the government will consult with the sectors involved about what an “adequate level of coverage” looks like.

He said: “We do not want to use this legislation but we must ensure the safety of the British public.

“The first job of any government is to keep the public safe and unlike other countries we are not proposing banning strikes but we do need to know unions are held to account.”

Lynch said the RMT will oppose the “draconian” legislation in the courts.

He added: “This is an attack on human rights and civil liberties which we will oppose in the courts, Parliament and the workplace.

“One of the most important things in any democratic society is to have free trade unions.

“This law could make effective strike action illegal and workers could be sacked for exercising their right to withdraw their labour.

“The only reason this draconian legislation is being introduced is because they have lost the argument and want to punish workers for having the temerity to demand decent pay and working conditions.

“The Government’s own impact assessment of minimum service levels shows it wouldn’t work and they would be better off coming to a negotiated settlement with unions through dialogue.”