Liz Truss has been accused of inflaming divisions and attempting to erode workers’ rights with proposals to raise ballot threshold for industrial action and minimum service levels during strikes.
The Tory leadership contender said she will introduce legislation targeting “militant action” from trade unions in the first 30 days of taking office if she wins the race to succeed Boris Johnson in No 10.
The committment comes as members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 14 train operators prepare to walk out on Wednesday in an ongoing dispute over jobs, pay and working conditions.
The Trade Union Congress (TUC) has urged the government and transport secretary, Grant Shapps, to “stop blocking an agreement that will end the dispute” and get around the negotiating table.
But Ms Truss’s campaign team said she will “introduce a number of measures to hinder unions’ ability to cripple the economy” and guarantee a minimum level of service on “critical national infrastructure”.
“Tailored minimum thresholds, including staffing levels, will be determine with each industry,” they added.
The proposal was included in the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto to target transport strikes. Unions, however, described the measures as an attack on the right to strike which were “unfair and unworkable”.
Among her plans, Ms Truss also intends to raise the minimum threshold for voting in favour of strike action from 40 to 50 per cent and expand the rule across all sectors of the economy while increasing the minimum notice period for strike action from two to four weeks.
A cooling-off period would be implemented so that unions can no longer strike as many times as they like in the six-month period after a ballot and members would no longer be able to receive tax-free payments from unions on the days they are on strike.
Ms Truss said: “We need tough and decisive action to limit trade unions’ ability to paralyse our economy. I will do everything in my power to make sure that militant action from trade unions can no longer cripple the vital services that hard-woking people rely on”.
Responding to her plans, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady called on the leadership candidates to stop “taking pot-shots at working people and their unions” and instead draw up plans to tackle the cost-of-living crisis.
She added: “The right to strike is an important British freedom. Threatening the right to strike means working people lose the power to bargain for better pay and conditions”.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “As we saw with the government’s plans to break strikes with agency workers, these plans are unworkable, will only erode working people’s rights further and inflame industrial relations at a critical time”.
She added: “The candidates for the Tory leadership are in a full-scale arms race to exacerbate tensions and escalate divisions rather than get around the table and resolve disputes.
“They’re denying their own records and fixated on performing to an unrepresentative Tory selectorate instead of offering answers to the public to get wages rising and tackling the cost-of-living crisis”.