Numerous feminist campaign groups have pointed out that the proposed anti-strike bill – which will enforce minimum service level – will disproportionately affect women compared to men.
Four feminist organisations and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) addressed equalities minister Kemi Badenoch in a letter stating that the bill would adversely affect public services with a majority female workforce, such as health and education. The groups who signed the letter include the Fawcett Society, Pregnant Then Screwed, the Equality Trust, the Women’s Budget Group and the TUC, The Guardian reports.
“This draconian legislation will mean that when workers democratically and lawfully vote to strike across a range of sectors – including health and education, which have a predominantly female workforce – they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply,” the letter said.
In the education sector, the teaching workforce is 75% female, as well as 89% of its support staff. Meanwhile, in the NHS, 77% of the workforce are female, and 82% are female in social care.
The hugely controversial bill would give the business secretary the powers to make regulations over minimum levels of service, resulting in employers consulting unions on what those levels would be. Those who breach minimum service levels could face being sacked and losing employment protection, which unions have said breaches fundamental rights.
“In an already-challenging labour market rife with discrimination, the last thing working women need is to be threatened with the sack for exercising their democratic right to strike and for trying to defend their pay and working conditions – especially in a cost of living crisis,” the groups state in the letter.
According to research by Legal & General, women are at a higher risk of the cost of living crisis, with working women on average only 14 days away from the breadline in the event they lose their income. This is significantly less than the average man who could meet their household costs for 28 days. Also, on average, women’s products cost 13% more than the equivalent for men.
“If passed, this bill will have a silencing effect on women who are already outnumbered by men 2:1 in positions of power.” said Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, adding that “women, especially women of colour, are at the sharp end of the cost of living crisis – workplaces must work for women and the starting point for this must be decent pay and working conditions.”
The TUC’s general secretary, Paul Nowak, also opposed the government’s controversial plan in a statement. “No one should face discrimination at work because of their gender. But too many women are treated unfairly by their employers because they are pregnant. Too many are pushed out of work because they have caring responsibilities for children or elderly parents. And too many still experience sexual harassment at work,” he said.
Earlier last month, the Labour party also warned against the plan, with deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner saying that the members of the Conservative party “are burning freedoms for which we fought for centuries.”
The UK has been grappling with its biggest strike wave for decades, with teachers, nurses, transport and Royal Mail staff walking away from their jobs to demand higher pay to be able to cope with the soaring inflation and worsening cost of living crisis.