Official review of UK anti-strike law ‘not fit for purpose’, say experts

A government review that gave the green light to Conservative anti-strike legislation has been condemned as “not fit for purpose” by an official panel of experts.

The department for business on Tuesday published its “impact assessment” of the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) bill.

The measure, now going through parliament, is designed to curb the impact of future industrial action on public services by forcing employees in key sectors such as transport and health to keep working.

The impact assessment drew a broadly favourable picture of the legislation, concluding it would boost public confidence around access to vital services during walkouts and pointing to the economic benefits that would result from less disruption to day-to-day business activity.

But it was slammed by the Regulatory Policy Committee, a group of independent business, academic and legal experts convened by the government to provide advice on some policy proposals.

The RPC described the cost-benefit analysis of the policy as “weak” and “not fit for purpose” in a scathing 10-page report.

The group suggested some of the sources behind the analysis were a decade old, adding that some assumptions had been made without “appropriate evidence and analysis”.

“It is not always clear what evidence has been used . . . the department should have provided a clearer description of what evidence has been used to support the analysis.”

The RPC also accused ministers of failing to consider sufficiently the potential effect on small businesses having to familiarise themselves with the new rules around minimum workforce levels.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, described the group’s report as a “damning judgment by independent experts”.

“Tory ministers have failed utterly to do due diligence on this shoddy, unworkable policy, breaking their own rules and failing to provide evidence for their claims,” she said.

Downing Street said the government was taking a “legitimate approach” to ensuring public safety during walkouts, adding: “We think these proposals are not just appropriate but a proportionate response to protect life and health during industrial action.”

The RPC pointed out that although the impact assessment listed similar policies already in effect in six other European countries, it failed to include details of the minimum service levels in those places or their effectiveness.

At present, the legislation does not set out exactly how the new rules will work. More specific points, such as the precise minimum service levels that will be needed in each sector, will require further “secondary legislation”.

The RPC said it hoped to see “more detailed qualitative and quantitative cost-benefit analyses” when the government presents that secondary legislation.

Tuesday’s impact assessment from the business department conceded that the new curbs on walkouts could sour the relationship between unions and employers to the extent that strikes could be held with “increased frequency”.

It also warned that unions could seek to “maximise their leverage” by balloting for strike action in the run-up to the draft laws being passed by parliament.

But the paper concluded that such outcomes were “very speculative” and suggested that the new “minimum safety agreements” (MSAs) could lead to unions settling disputes more quickly, because workers may “realise more favourable offers [from employers] may not be achievable”.

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