LONDON — Conservative MP Chris Philp is calling for the government to revisit current legislation over how workers strike as many of Britain’s key infrastructure networks come to a near stand-still this week.
Philp, MP for Croydon South, told Business Insider in an interview, that “there are now 300,000 people who can’t get into work or see their family because of the completely unfair and disproportionate strike action” from unions like the RMT and ASLEF.
Britain is encountering one of the worst bouts of strikes in the last couple of decades. Already, strikes from unions have led to several days where Southern Rail services have been completely cancelled. This affects 300,000 passengers.
This week, only a few days before Christmas, thousands of workers across rail companies, airlines, and postal services will be on strike.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said in a statement this week: “Our conductor members on Southern are on strike this week in defence of the safety of the travelling public and that remains the focus of the entire union.”
Philp told us that the government should revise current legislation to stop strike workers bringing Britain’s infrastructure to a standstill.
It should be a legal requirement for public sector strikes to go before a High Court judge
Speaking to us on Monday, he said: “There are two things we should do. It should be a legal requirement for public sector strikes to go before a High Court judge, who would determine whether the strike was unreasonable and disproportionate for it to continue,” said Philp.
“The second point should be that we follow what Canada, Italy, and Spain do by making sure that even if there are public sector strikes, 50% of the services should still be running.
“I understand that there may be grievances from unions but they always have to be reasonable and proportionate. The judge should balance up the injury suffered from workers versus injuries suffered by the general public [to determine this]. And if unions had a problem with this, they are effectively asking for the legal right to strike disproportionately and unreasonably.”
The worst set of strikes in a decade
The dispute is over a proposed expansion of Southern’s driver-only train network, whereby the driver operates the train doors rather than a guard. It has been rumbling on for years.
According to the BBC, Southern has so far paid out around £38 million to compensate passengers for late or cancelled services and set aside an extra £15 million for season ticket holders.
Driver-only-operated (DOO) trains were first introduced in the early 1980s and a third of the UK’s services currently operate this way. The whole of the London tube network is DOO.
The unions have claimed that an expansion of driver-only trains risks endangering passengers in the event of an accident. However, the rail safety regulator has ruled that it is safe.
But mainly the unions also see the more widespread use of DOO trains as a path to job cuts in the future. Southern Rail has claimed that there will not be job cuts or pay cuts.
Philp pointed out that if the public wanted to get “insight into the mentality” of some of the union leaders, they should look towards the president of the RMT union Sean Hoyle.
According to The Times newspaper, Hoyle said industrial action had been coordinated to “bring down this bloody working-class-hating Tory government” and that the union’s “rule number one” was to “strive to replace the capitalist system with a socialist order.”