Ministers push Bill to curb public sector strike action

14 Sep 15

The government is to press ahead with reforms to trade union laws in order to end what ministers called the “endless” threat of strike action in public services from a single vote.

The Trade Union Bill, which will receive its second reading in the House of Commons today, will require all industrial action to be backed by votes within the last two years. Currently, there are a number of live mandates for industrial action that are more than two years old in public services. These include 2011 and 2012 ballots from the National Union of Teachers that have resulted in eight national and regional strikes, including the most recent in July 2014. The Fire Brigades Union has held 49 strikes over a two-year period based on a 2013 ballot.

Business secretary Sajid Javid said the government was “acting in the interests of the whole country and these reforms will stop the ‘endless’ threat of strike action hanging over hardworking people”.

He added: “Trade unions play an important role and deserve our respect. But when working people’s lives are being disrupted by strike action, it is only fair that this happens as a result of a contemporary mandate that is supported by the majority of union members”.

The legislation will also introduce a 50% turnout threshold for votes for industrial action to be successful, as well as an additional threshold of 40% support from eligible voters for action in a number of public services. Action across health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning will all require this level of support.

Employment minister Nick Boles added: “Working people need to know they can get on with their lives without unjustified disruption. These modernising reforms will ensure strikes only happen as a result of a clear, positive and recent decision by those entitled to vote. The government will also introduce secondary legislation to remove the current ban on employers using temporary workers to replace staff taking part in industrial action.”

The bill will also end the ‘check off’ system for collecting union subscriptions, which unions have said is “spiteful” and “malicious”.

In a keynote speech to the Trade Unions Congress today, general secretary Frances O’Grady will say the Bill represents the biggest attack in 30 years. “Not just against trade unions, but against our best chance of raising productivity, pay and demand. Because here is a simple truth: you can't create wealth without the workforce. And you can't spread that wealth around fairly without trade unions.

“Nobody would deny that strikes can be inconvenient. But when it comes to a threat to the fundamental right to strike, the public are with us. Because that's exactly what this government is doing. Attacking the very principle of the right to strike.”
She instead called on the government to work with unions to improve Britain’s productivity.

“The slogan for this TUC Congress is great jobs for everyone,” she said. “That means fair pay and secure contracts, time to spend with your family, a voice at work and respect for a job well done.

“But Britain’s unions don’t just want a fair share of the cake for workers. We know we have to grow the cake too. There is a better plan for Britain. And the government should talk to businesses and unions about how to deliver it.”

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