New law will target PCS members working for the National Crime Agency

Tim Lezard

PCS call centre leafy placardThousands of civil servants will be outlawed from taking strike action under a new law being pushed by the government.

MPs will today begin debate on the floor of the House of Commons on the Crime and Courts Bill – sponsored by the Home Secretary Teresa May.

It includes clauses that would prevent people working for the National Crime Agency (NCA) from taking industrial action.

The NCA is a new body set up to fight organised crime, with staff largely drawn from customs and immigrations officers, many of whom are PCS members.

UnionNews understands that while most of its staff will be desk-bound, some workers will go on raids and will have the power of arrest. As a result, the government says NCA staff should be treated the same as police and prison officers, who are not allowed to strike. The legislation would affect some 3,500 PCS members.

The Bill was presented to the Commons late last week, where it was challenged by John McDonnell, chair of the PCS Parliamentary Group, during the Committee stage.

He said: “The clauses in this Bill will take away from civil servants a fundamental right that they have at the moment: the right to take industrial action.

“This is the crossing of the Rubicon.

“The clauses will bring in a ban on industrial action that extends well beyond the police and prison officers, where it already exists, to civil servants, on whom such a ban has never been imposed before. This is an unnecessary and unwelcome political device that is being used by the government to test the water around their future policies on trade union and employment rights in this country.

“I think this is the thin end of the wedge. If the clauses are accepted by the House—and certainly if they are accepted by my party—on this occasion, this will be used as an example in other areas.

“That is why I am urging people to vote against them, and I will seek to divide the House on the matter. If I have to walk through the Lobby on my own, I will do so, because this is a fundamental matter of principle.

“The workers involved are dedicated civil servants, but they deserve the right to protection and to basic human and trade union rights if they feel that management or others are imposing something on them that is unacceptable.

“Most of them never go on strike or take industrial action, but they deserve to have the right to do so if necessary, because that is the only protection they have against oppressive management or employers.”

Following John McDonnell’s intervention, Labour MPs on the committee abstained on the clause, although Tories and Lib Dems voted in favour.

A PCS spokesperson told UnionNews: “John’s contribution in the debate was brilliant and we thank him wholeheartedly for his unswerving defence of our members’ right to strike, and we would ask other Labour MPs to search their consciences and reflect on the implications of what is being proposed.

“As John pointed out, this is a Rubicon-crossing moment in trade union history. A despicable piece of legislation cooked up by the Tories, propped up by docile and subservient Lib Dems. No right thinking person could support it.”

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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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