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Industrial Action: Support for Public Services

Volume 732: debated on Thursday 11 May 2023

The Cabinet Office’s Cobra unit has supported Departments with developing their contingency plans. We have co-ordinated preparedness activity across Government to minimise the impacts of industrial action on public services, but the only way we can truly avoid disruption is for union leaders to return to the negotiating table and work constructively in order to reach a fair and reasonable deal.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Militant strike action causes misery for many people in East Devon, who just want to get on with their daily lives. Does my right hon. Friend agree that minimum safety levels are absolutely necessary to mitigate the impact of industrial action?

As ever, my hon. Friend is totally right. It is completely unacceptable that the people of East Devon can have their lives totally upended by strikes led by militant unions. We of course respect the right to strike, but we have a duty to protect the lives and livelihoods of the British people. That is exactly what this legislation does, and it is a pity that the Labour party will not support it.

My North Devon constituents would also like to get on with their daily lives. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be welcome if the Opposition also called on union leaders to get back around the table and work constructively to resolve these disputes?

I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend’s constituents. It really is incumbent on Labour Members, given their close relationship with the trade union movement, to encourage union leaders to come back to the table, and to support the minimum service legislation to protect our constituents, rather than kowtowing to their militant union paymasters?

When I spoke to Public and Commercial Services Union workers on the picket line in front of the UK Government building in my Glasgow Central constituency, they told me that they are striking precisely because they want to protect the public services they work in from erosion; to ensure that their colleagues do not see the erosion in pay and conditions that they have seen over many years; and to ensure that they have fair pay and fair wages that they can live on. What is the Minister doing to ensure that they do not have to go out on strike and they can get the fair wage that they deserve?

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General has just published the affordability for settlements for civil servants. Remember that this is devolved to each individual Government Department. Of course, I do not dispute for a moment the challenges that people face as a result of the war in Ukraine pushing up inflation around the world, and that is why we have taken action across the board. However, I would say that we cannot allow inflation- busting pay rises, the only effect of which will be to make it harder to meet our target of halving inflation and to make every single person in this country—public and private sector—poorer.