Tories to legislate on strike votes

Published: Friday 9th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Conservatives will legislate to make it more difficult for unions to call strikes in key public services if they win this year’s election, it has been announced.

Industrial action in the health, education, transport and fire services would require the support of at least 40% of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots – as well as a majority of those who actually turn out to vote. A Conservative source said this would prevent strikes going ahead on the basis of majorities in ballots in which only a small proportion of the unionised workforce has voted.

Under proposals to be included in the party’s manifesto for the May 6 election, Tories also pledged to end the ban on the use of agency staff to cover for striking workers, and they promised a review of the possible introduction of minimum service levels to ensure that core services remain available during strikes.

Unveiling the proposals, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said legislation would be passed in the first year of the next Parliament if Conservatives secure a majority in May and would stop “politicised union leaders” from “holding the country to ransom” with the backing of only a small proportion of their members.

Measures previously announced by Conservatives would impose a 50% minimum turnout threshold for all strike ballots, end “rolling mandates” so that strikes cannot be called on the basis of ballots conducted years before, and reform picketing rules to protect staff who want to go in to work.

Nearly three-quarters (86) of 119 significant ballots for industrial action conducted between August 2010 and December 2014 would have been invalid under the proposed thresholds, including last year’s London Underground strike, which fewer than one third of eligible RMT members voted for, said Conservatives.

And next week’s planned bus strikes in London would be banned, as only 16% of those entitled to vote backed the January 13 action in a ballot which attracted a turnout of just 19%, a party source said.

Mr McLoughlin, who was a member of the NUM when working as a miner before entering Parliament, said: “I t is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of hard-working tax-payers who rely on key public services.

“It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for. That causes misery to millions of people; and it costs our economy too. As part of our long-term economic plan for our country, we want commuters, parents and families to be able to get on with their day with as minimal disruption as possible.

“These serious reforms will help increase the legitimacy of any strikes unions do hold. And they will put our labour laws back where they should be – on the side of hard-working people going about their daily lives. That’s how we will secure a better future for Britain.”

CBI deputy director general Katja Hall said: ” Strikes should always be the result of a clear, positive decision by those balloted. The introduction of a threshold is an important – but fair – step to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions.

“For nearly five years the CBI has been saying that recruiting agency workers to plug gaps during a strike is not about threatening strikers’ jobs, but providing essential cover during periods of action so businesses can continue to serve their customers. The abolition of this nonsensical restriction is long overdue.”

John Longworth, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said: ” When it comes to transport, education, and health, which individuals and businesses depend on, the right to strike must only be exercised with the greatest restraint. So higher standards should apply when a strike would put people at risk or affect the ability of large numbers of their fellow citizens to earn a living.

“In the eyes of businesses large and small, these proposals have merit, as they would help ensure essential services and the freedom to work in the event of strike action.”

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group, said: “Far too regularly we see huge disruption to people’s lives as a result of strikes which union leaders have called on the back of minimal workplace support.

“To add insult to injury for the rest of us, such industrial action has often been taken in direct opposition to much-needed reforms of public sector pay and pensions. Introducing this kind of threshold to make a strike legitimate would be a simple yet reasonable step to ensure that a minority of militant union activists cannot cause misery for millions.”

Published: Friday 9th January 2015 by The News Editor

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