THE SNP have condemned in the "strongest possible terms" Conservative anti-strike laws which could see unions sued by employers if they fail to provide minimum levels of service during walk-outs.
The UK Government has announced it is pressing ahead with introducing a bill to Parliament in the next few weeks which, it says, will ensure minimum safety levels during industrial action for services including health, education, fire and rescue, transport, border security and nuclear.
It said vital public services will be able to maintain a "basic function" when workers go on strike.
In a written statement, Grant Shapps confirmed the safety net of minimum service levels was designed “to ensure that the public are not put at risk during strike action is the best way of balancing the ability to strike, while protecting the wider public”.
He also confirmed that the reforms would allow agency workers “to fill vital staffing gaps caused by industrial strike action”.
Waves of industrial action continue to take place across the UK as England braces for more nurses' strikes at the end of January.
Disputes with rail staff also remain ongoing with Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan warning the plans could prompt longer periods of strike action.
The SNP’s deputy Westminster leader Mhairi Black condemned the “immoral proposals”, saying the Tories continued to speak to the “hard-right rhetoric that has Westminster in a choke hold”.
“Just months ago, the UK Government applauded key workers – now, they are threatening them with the sack if they go on strike. It’s utterly shameful”, she said.
Black continued: “The SNP condemn these plans in the strongest possible terms, which contrast starkly with the constructive role the SNP Scottish Government has played in recent pay disputes north of the border”.
Meanwhile, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch likened the proposals to “conscription”, telling LBC: “Basically, you’re talking about the conscription of labour even during a lawful dispute, and I would have to name my members that went to work to break their own picket lines. And that’s unacceptable in a free society.
“We’re always being told that repressive regimes do things against the public. And of course the mark of what went on in Poland, and what goes on in China, and probably Russia and other repressive regimes, is that trade unions aren’t free.”
STUC general secretary Roz Foyer recently spoke with The National about the difference in rhetoric used by the UK and Scottish governments in response to striking workers.
She described the latest plans to The National as an “attack on the United Kingdom’s democracy” and that “any assault on it must be opposed”.
Foyer said: “Strikes are always a last resort for workers. With inflation at over 10%, many employers are refusing to give pay rises that keep up with the cost of living, leaving workers with no option but to strike for a better deal.
“Rishi Sunak should be focused on ending the cost of living crisis, not attacking workers that are doing all they can to improve their own living standards.”
The union boss has previously said that support for striking workers is as high as its ever been and that membership is on the rise.
Elsewhere, the Scottish Greens have said that “nothing terrifies the Tories more than working people coming together”.
MSP Maggie Chapman said: “The attacks we are seeing on the rights of unions are not just an attack on the right to organise, they are also an attack on terms and conditions and on everything that the trade union movement has achieved.
“Whether it is a minimum wage, paid holidays or weekends, these rights have been hard fought and won by organised unionised workers.
“Trade unions are, and always have been, instrumental in securing better working conditions and rights for all of us.”
The Times reports that the minimum level of service required for each sector would need to be agreed between unions and the government.
Should no agreement be reached, it will go to arbitration and a specific level may ultimately be imposed by ministers.
Other measures under discussion include doubling the minimum notice period for industrial action from 14 days as well as reducing the six-month limit for industrial action following a successful ballot.
Chapman added: “The Scottish Greens will always do everything we can to defend workers’ rights here in Scotland, both within the powers available to the Scottish Parliament and as a cornerstone of our vision for independence.
“We will always stand in full solidarity with workers when their rights are so brazenly threatened.”
A government spokesman said: “Ministers continue to explore further measures to help minimise disruption and protect the public but no decisions have been taken.
“Any legislation we do bring forward will aim to safeguard the rights of the public to get on with their daily lives and be kept safe, while recognising the right of workers to strike.
“It is not our intention to penalise individual members for striking and we will make this clear; this is about ensuring that the public can expect that essential services will be protected during industrial action.”