Government launches plan to limit strikes
The government today (15 July 2015) has introduced reforms to strengthen strike laws. There are strong differences of opinion about the changes. Minister for Trade Unions Nick Boles said:
“People have the right to expect that services on which they and their families rely are not going to be disrupted at short notice by strikes that have the support of only a small proportion of union members. These are sensible and fair reforms that balance the right to strike with the right of millions of people to go about their daily lives without undue disruption.”
According to the BBC, Mick Whelan, General Secretary of ASLEF, the train drivers union, said the move “smacks of Germany in the 1930’s” whilst other union leaders have portrayed the changes as an attack on democracy itself with many noting that if the same rules were applies to the general election result no party would have won.
What are the often overlooked facts?
At present a ballot to strike lawfully requires a simple majority vote in favour of strike action by those who are eligible to and actually choose to vote in a ballot. There is no minimum turnout requirement. So you can have 1000 people eligible to vote. 100 of them actually vote. 51 of them support a strike, that strike is lawful. But only 51 people out of a thousand have openly supported that action.
The Trade Union Bill will require a 50% threshold for ballot turn-out for all strikes. This would mean at least 500 of the 1000 people would have to vote yes or no. In addition 251 would have to vote yes. This would still mean that a lawful strike could only require 25% of those eligible to vote to say yes.
For specific sectors such as public transport and teachers a further threshold is to be applied. This will require at least 40% of those eligible to vote to vote yes i.e. to strike. In our example at least 500 would have to vote, 400 of them would have to vote yes. The 40% rule for the public sector will make organising lawful public sector strikes, where the number eligible to vote can run into thousands if not tens of thousands, much harder to mobilise.
Other key aspects of the proposed changes include:
- setting a 4 month time limit for industrial action so that mandates are always recent
- removing the current legal restrictions on using agency labour to replace striking workers
The consultation on these proposals will run until 9 September 2015. We have seen the opening shots fired and the ideological battle lines drawn, we may be facing a summer of discontent.
To read more please click here.