The Tories declared war on key workers this week, steamrollering through legislation that would see teachers, nurses and rail workers sacked for exercising their right to strike. The “Minimum Service Levels” Bill would give the Government carte blanche to force striking workers into their workplaces, with workers facing the sack if they fail to comply.
They clapped for them. Now they want to sack them. The Tories claim this is about delivering minimum standards but after 13 years of underfunding, privatisation, and mismanagement, they are failing to deliver minimum standards in healthcare, education and transport on a daily basis. This is partly why we’re seeing strikes in the first place, driven by the strain this has placed on the underpaid workers propping up our crumbling public services.
Just look at the situation in our NHS. Over the festive period, a dozen NHS trusts declared critical incidents. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine reported that between 300 and 500 people were dying every week due to delays in emergency care. The 133,446 NHS vacancies are a driving factor behind the current crisis and NHS strike action, with a continuing exodus of frontline medical staff. If passed, this legislation is likely to force out many of the nurses, paramedics and junior doctors currently holding our health service together.
Too often, we are asked whether we can afford to pay NHS staff properly. The truth is we can’t afford not to pay them properly. With our NHS in crisis and staff leaving in droves over low pay, any Government that truly cared about upholding basic levels of services would be looking to negotiate a long-term pay settlement. These plans are nearly as unworkable as they are anti-worker.
Is it any surprise people are struggling to see GPs, waiting longer for treatment, and experiencing lethal ambulance delays when the Tories seem to believe you can have a functioning NHS staff without any staff? This principle applies across our public services, where striking workers are fighting for the future of the services we all rely on. Sadly, the Tories are more interested in stopping public service workers from demanding minimum standards than they are in delivering them.
This forced pay cuts bill will do nothing to improve standards or staffing levels in our public services. What would? Giving nurses, paramedics, doctors, teachers, firefighters and other public service workers a long-overdue pay rise, and all the resources they need to do their jobs.
This article was first published in South London Press on 3rd February 2023.