Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has prepared a Bill to force workers to ensure a minimum level of transport during strikes.
Under the proposed legislation, “minimum service agreements” will set out services to be provided during walkouts by railway workers.
Any strike would be unlawful unless a minimum service agreement is in place. And if it is not honoured, a strike would be unlawful and injunctions or damages would be sought against unions.
ASLEF general secretary Mick Whelan said: “This is nothing less than a declaration of war on transport workers. No trade unionist takes industrial action lightly, but we need that option to prevents bad employers from riding roughshod over our working conditions and safety. This shows that this right wing and authoritarian Tory government sees transport workers as the enemy. Not stakeholders.
“It’s funny how the Tory party are all in favour of deregulation, until it comes to unions, where they enforce ever more draconian laws to stop working people holding bad bosses to account. However, I can tell you that if the employers were to be honest, they won’t want this as it will cause more industrial unrest not less.
“Shapps tells us his law will force our members to provide a ‘bare-bones service’ during industrial action. Yet the number of passengers won’t go down. So we’ll end up with mass overcrowding on platforms and on board trains when our railway is already at capacity. Our members’ first duty is to keep passengers safe. They will not be a party to the dangerous running of services.
“Our members love our industry. ASLEF’s priority is to improve the lives of our members and ensure a successful, growing and reliable railway. We never want to disrupt passengers. But if the Transport Secretary and this nasty Tory government want to start a war with rail staff, our members are more than prepared to fight it and win.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “It hasn’t taken long for the true colours of this new Tory government to emerge. Banning strikes and denying workers the basic human right to withdraw their labour has been the hallmark of hard right, authoritarian regimes throughout history.
“Instead of attacking rail workers fighting to defend the safety and disabled access any responsible government would be tackling the scandal of private profiteering on Britain’s railways which have reduced services to chaos.
“RMT will fight any plans to deny out members their basic human rights.”
Unite assistant general secretary for transport Diana Holland said: “These proposals miss the fundamental point that workers only ever take industrial action as a last resort. This is about generating headlines rather than improving services to the general public.
“Commuters will know from bitter experience that Shapps’ idea of workers being forced to operate a ‘bare bones’ service could be worse than useless and potentially dangerous.
“Already workers who intend to take industrial action are required to jump through a huge number of legal hoops in order to be able to take legal action.
“There are already additional legal restrictions in place concerning London bus services which makes it even more difficult for those workers to take industrial action. So any further restrictions on the right to strike are entirely unnecessary.
“Industrial disputes occur for a variety of reasons, for example over safety which is equally about protecting the traveling public as it is about protecting the workers themselves.”
Patrick Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity, said: "These proposed restrictions on the right of transport workers to strike are ill-conceived and are an attempt to undermine effective industrial action. Let's remember that workers strike to improve their wages and conditions or to ensure their health and safety because their employer has failed to address their concerns. Once again the Tories are stacking the deck in favour of the employer and against the ordinary worker."