Laws designed to provide a minimum level of cover during strikes have been extended to ambulance staff, rail workers and Border Force employees.

Ministers had launched a consultation on minimum service levels for ambulance staff and passenger rail workers after the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act became law.

That legislation, passed earlier this year, faced fierce criticism from trade unions as unworkable and a threat to the right to strike.

It came as the Tories grappled with a wave of strike action by rail workers, teachers, health workers and others fuelled by anger at the failure of pay to keep pace with soaring inflation.

Disputes – some of which have since been resolved – also centred on deteriorating working conditions, and the strikes caused major disruption across England and Wales.

The Government said minimum service levels would ensure that public services continue in the face of walkouts, calling the measures “effective and proportionate”.

The legislation to bring the move into effect it to be laid in Parliament on Tuesday, with ministers hopeful it can be completed before Christmas.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “We are doing everything in our power to stop unions derailing Christmas for millions of people. This legislation will ensure more people will be able to travel to see their friends and family and get the emergency care they need.

“We cannot go on relying on short-term fixes – including calling on our armed forces or civil servants – to mitigate the disruption caused by strike action.

“That’s why we’re taking the right long-term decision to bring in minimum service levels, in line with other countries, to keep people safe and continue delivering the vital public services that hard-working people rely on.”

The regulations will apply to employees of Border Force and some Passport Office staff in England, Wales and Scotland.

Under the rules for train operators, the Government said regulations will mean the equivalent of 40% of normal timetables operating as normal.

Minimum service levels for ambulance workers will apply in England only. The legislation has been designed to ensure that emergency services “will continue throughout any strike action”.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “This Government’s failed approach has led to the worst strikes in decades and now they’re getting their excuses in early for Christmas.

TUC congress 2023
Deputy Labour Party leader Angela Rayner said the Government’s approach had resulted in the worst strikes in decades (Peter Byrne/PA)

“Rishi Sunak is offering another sticking plaster to distract from the Conservatives’ track record of failure. We all want minimum standards of service and staffing but it’s Tory ministers who are consistently failing to provide them.

“Only Labour can offer the change Britain needs, with industrial relations fit for a modern economy, where issues can be resolved before they escalate.”

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak said: “These anti-strike laws won’t work. The crisis in our public services is of the Government’s own making.

“Rather than engaging constructively with unions, they are attacking the right to strike, and they are punishing paramedics and rail staff for daring to stand up for decent pay and better services.

“These new laws are unworkable, undemocratic and almost certainly in breach of international law.

“The UK already has some of the most restrictive trade union laws in Europe.

“It is already harder for working people here to take strike action than in any other western European country. Now the Tories want to make it even harder for people to win fair pay and conditions.

“Unions will keep fighting this spiteful legislation. We won’t stop until it is repealed.”

GMB national secretary Rachel Harrison said: “This is yet another blatant attempt from this Government to distract from the mess they have made of public services.

“Official figures show patient safety improved during national ambulance strike days.

“Thanks to the planning of unions themselves, time spent waiting for an ambulance went down during strikes, not up.

“The stark truth is that public services are not able to deliver safe staffing levels on any day, not because of strikes but because of years of underfunding.

“While the Government continues to scapegoat staff, it is patients and staff who will continue to pay the price for their neglect.”