SDLP leader says government 'disdain for devolution' could see anti-strike laws imposed in Northern Ireland

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood .Picture by HUgh Russell.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood .Picture by HUgh Russell. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood .Picture by HUgh Russell.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has warned that government's "disdain for devolution" could see anti-strike laws in the north.

Yesterday, MPs passed a bill to enforce minimum service levels during strike action in sectors like rail and emergency services.

The proposals would apply to England, Scotland and Wales and still need to pass through the House of Lords before becoming law.

Mr Eastwood said the "disdain for devolution" shown by the Conservative government meant local trade unions could ultimately face similar restrictions.

“While this legislation will not apply to the north, the SDLP is determined to show our solidarity with workers as they continue their fight for fair pay and working conditions and will resist any attempt by the Tories to smash workers’ rights," he said.

“We are also seriously concerned about the precedent this legislation sets for workers’ rights and the impact it will have on workers based in the north taking collective strike action with their counterparts in Britain.

Without a Stormont executive, he added: "I can't honestly say that I’m confident the Tories won’t try and introduce similar legislation on local unions. This is yet another example of why we need to get our assembly and executive back up and running to protect people from the worst aspects of Tory rule.”

During yesterday's Westminster debate, former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he feared that some employers would use the legislation to "target trade unionists".

"They will ensure that they are sacked and then when the union defends that trade unionist, they’ll come for the trade union itself,” he said.

Defending the legislation, business minister Kevin Hollinrake said the government was taking "reasonable, proportionate and balance steps" that were affordable.

“Negotiations indeed continue, of course, and there needs to be fair negotiations, fair to workers but also fair to the taxpayer," he said.

“I do reject the characterisation about this bill by the opposition who clearly put the relationship with their unions over the interests of this country. This is not a radical bill. What we are doing isn’t even new. We are taking reasonable, proportionate and balanced steps, aligning ourselves with many of our European partners."

He claimed an inflation-matching pay increase of 11 per cent for public sectors would cost £28 billion, adding just under £1,000 to household bills.

Mr Hollinrake said it was also time to face the facts that a £175bn deficit in the economy had become "absolutely unsustainable."