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RCN says UK government plan for anti-strike legislation is ‘undemocratic'

5 Jan 2023

We'll be scrutinising government plans as we call for safe staffing levels year round.

RCN picket line

The UK government is planning to bring in new anti-strike legislation requiring a basic level service when industrial action takes place and will introduce a bill into Parliament in the coming weeks. This new law would allow an employer to bring an injunction to prevent strike action or seek damages afterwards if trade unions do not comply. 

For health services, the government has said it expects to continue to reach voluntary agreements, for example through derogations, and would only look to consult on minimum safety levels should these voluntary positions not be agreed.

Pat Cullen, RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive, said: “Curtailing workers’ freedom to participate in lawful industrial action is always undemocratic and we will look closely at what the government releases next week.

“As for minimum staffing, last month’s action was safe for patients because of detailed discussions we chose to initiate with the NHS to protect emergency services and life-saving care. The public respected that and even ministers acknowledged our constructive approach.

“Safe staffing levels that are set in law are what we want to see year-round not just in these extreme circumstances. We’ve long-campaigned for governments to be accountable for safe and effective staffing levels in NHS and social care to prevent one nurse being left with 15, 20 or even 25 sick patients. Legislation exists in other parts of the UK and England is lagging behind.

“The evidence is unequivocal – safe staffing saves lives and having the right number of registered nurses on duty has a direct impact on the safety and quality of patient care. Today’s highly unsafe situation is what is driving our members to say ‘enough is enough’.”

The government has also invited trade unions to meet to discuss public sector pay settlements for 2023-24, and to discuss the evidence that the government will submit to the pay review bodies.

Pat said: “We will meet with ministers to see their evidence for the pay process. However, only negotiations on our dispute can avert the planned action this month and I urge the Prime Minister to show a renewed sense of urgency, grasp the nettle and negotiate with nurses without further delay.”

As it stands now, the planned RCN strikes in NHS workplaces across England will go ahead on 18 and 19 January. 


Page last updated - 17/07/2023