Conservatives plan tougher rules on public sector strike ballots
New legislation being drawn up would severely curb public sector unions’ rights to organise strikes.
The Conservatives will draw up new laws to curb the rights of public sector unions to take industrial action, Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has said.
Maude said the legislation was intended to stop strikes with mandates that were “weak” or resulting from ballots taken more than two years previously.
Such a law would severely curb unions’ rights to organise strikes. The move comes ahead of walkout by up to a million public sector workers, including teachers and NHS staff, planned for Thursday 10 July.
“We want to look at whether there should be a threshold in terms of turnout so that a ballot below a certain level should not give a valid legal mandate for strike action,” Maude said on Sky News’s Murnaghan programme.
“We should also be looking at whether there should be some rule that a mandate falls after a certain time. It can’t be right that the unions can come back year after year based on a mandate that is several years old in order to call strike action that can cause real harm not just to our children but also to hard-working parents.”
Tory sources said the plans centred on forcing union leaders to prove that half their members supported a walkout and that a large proportion had voted. Otherwise, a strike could be ruled illegal.
Under today’s law, a strike can go ahead if it is backed by a simple majority of those balloted. Few ballots achieve the support of more than 50% of the entire workforce.
Union leaders say Thursday’s walkout could be the biggest since the general strike of 1926. Unions taking action include the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), GMB, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), Unison and Unite.
The schools walkout follows on from a one-day strike in March. The unions are protesting at performance-related pay, pension cuts and the running down of public services.
On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the education secretary, Michael Gove, said teachers should not be striking. “The overwhelming majority will not be going on strike,” he said.
His shadow, Tristram Hunt, told the same programme there had been a “political failure” by the government to solve the dispute, but stopped short of either supporting or criticising striking teachers.
The general secretary of the TUC, Frances O’Grady, told the BBC’s Sunday Politics that it “seems like the government isn’t listening” to ordinary people.
She said it “really sticks in the throat” that the government could offer tax cuts for millionaires but not find more money for public sector workers.
A PCS spokesman said the real test of a strike ballot was not how many people voted for industrial action but how many voted with their feet on strike day itself, with walkout rates often 80% or 90%. He dismissed talk of weak mandates as “rank hypocrisy”.
“I have yet to hear one Tory MP say that police commissioners lack a mandate when they get elected on a turnout of 11% to four-year terms with the power to make major decisions on crimes,” he said.
“We have asked the government for help to improve turnout. At the moment, strike ballots have to be by postal vote but there are now secure ways of voting online and by email. We have asked them to explore those methods with us but they refuse to do so.”
- The Guardian,