Hospital trust leaders have expressed concerns that requiring medical personnel to work during industrial action under new laws that limit strikes could have a negative impact on patient care. Meanwhile, government officials have stated that their new measures will ensure that essential public services continue to operate during the holiday season.
NHS Providers, which represents hospital, mental health and ambulance trusts, said there was a significant risk it would damage relationships between staff and employers that are already very challenged, in a way that could affect patients.
In response to the consultation regarding minimum service levels in hospitals, it stated: “Our main worry is that instead of improving services as intended, the proposed legislation would deteriorate relationships between employers and employees, as well as between trusts and local union representatives, ultimately harming patient care in the long run.”
According to NHS Providers, the government’s own evaluations demonstrate that it would be more expensive to implement than other options. Their conclusion was released at the same time as the government issued instructions to employers on how to give notices to employees under the new legislation.
The TUC, the governing organization for labor unions, expressed that the laws were intended to worsen conflicts rather than resolve them. They stated that the additional guidance and mandatory code of practice only serve to make an already problematic legislation even more detrimental by adding unnecessary bureaucracy for both unions and employers.
The government has established guidelines for the minimum level of services in rail, ambulance, and border security, which will be implemented by the end of this year.
This year, the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act was introduced, which was met with strong opposition from trade unions who deemed it impractical and a violation of the right to strike.
During a rail strike, the minimum number of staff required will be 40%. For the Border Force, a minimum level of service will require staffing at approximately 70% to 75%.
According to the regulations for ambulance services, it is mandatory for them to answer and assess all emergency calls, as well as respond to calls in situations where there is an immediate risk to life or when no other medical help is available at the location or during transportation to a hospital.
The ministers are currently seeking input on regulations that impact employees in hospitals, schools, universities, and fire departments.
This indicates that even if employees vote to go on strike, they may still be required to work and can be fired if they refuse. Additionally, unions may be subjected to large penalties if they are unable to prove that they have requested specific members to work during strike periods.
The TUC’s general secretary, Paul Nowak, stated that these actions would only “harm labor relations and escalate conflicts.”
He stated that this strict law is a bold assault on the freedom to strike – it is impractical, lacking in democratic principles, and potentially violates international laws.
Simultaneously, government officials are attempting to reverse the prohibition of using temporary workers during strikes, following a ruling by the high court earlier this year that deemed the practice illegal.
Business minister Kevin Hollinrake stated that it is crucial to maintain a balance between the right to strike and ensuring that essential services remain accessible to the public.
“Businesses should not be limited by excessive regulations that lack justification. That’s why we are soliciting opinions on eliminating unnecessary rules, allowing businesses to determine their own staffing needs.”