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Tougher strike rules will be 'priority' for new government


Government plans that will make it more difficult for public sector workers to go on strike have been attacked by unions, who have claimed the changes will deny nurses and midwives their democratic voice and diminish their rights.

Recently appointed business secretary Sajid Javid, who took over from Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, confirmed on BBC Radio 4’s the Today programme this week that introducing the changes would be a “priority” for the new Conservative government.

He said: “We’ve already made clear in terms of strike law that there will be some significant changes… That’s something we’ll give more detail on in the Queen’s Speech but it will be a priority of ours.”

”We’ve already made clear in terms of strike law that there will be some significant changes…it will be a priority of ours”

Sajid Javid

Currently, unions are able to take industrial action with a majority vote, regardless of the turnout.

But under the Tory proposals, there would be a new minimum voting turnout of 50% for those eligible to take part, plus a requirement for at least a 40% majority of those in favour of going on strike. Mr Javid’s comments reinforce a pre-election pledge made in January.

Unite said it was a “terrible shame” and “big mistake” that one of the government’s first reforms would be to “attempt to reduce rights for working people”, and urged the government to instead help improve mechanisms for voting.

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, said: “Many of the electors, who provided the Tories with their slim majority, are working people concerned about justice and fairness in the workplace.”

“Unite urges Sajid Javid and his colleagues think long and hard about this move as there are better ways of improving the mechanisms for industrial action ballots, such as electronic voting and ballots at the workplace,” added Mr Turner.

The Royal College of Midwives – which saw its members take industrial action last year for the first time in the union’s 133-year history – claimed the tougher rules would make it “virtually impossible” for workers to strike.

“These thresholds would make it virtually impossible for workers to take action”

Jon Skewes

RCM’s director for policy, employment relations and communications Jon Skewes said: “These thresholds would make it virtually impossible for workers to take action and deny employees their democratic voice.” 

He added: “Industrial action is a last resort for trade unions and when the RCM took industrial action in England and during our current action in Northern Ireland we have worked in partnership with employers to maintain essential services and ensure safety.”

“The government should work with trade unions and employers in partnership to build good working relationships and to achieve consensus. This is far more productive than imposing voting thresholds that the government did not even meet in the election,” he added.

If such rules already existed, they would have had a serious impact on the recent pay dispute between the government and NHS unions, which saw strikes take place last autumn.

Unison’s ballot results showed that while 68% of respondents voted in favour of strike action, this represented just 16% of those who were balloted. Unite has withheld its turnout result, suggesting it was also low.

However, the RCM had a much higher turnout – 49.4% – in its ballot over the same pay row, in which 82.2% voted for strike action.


Readers' comments (4)

  • First come more laws restricting the rights of workers to strike then the government will attack our pay t&c's.
    This government of the rich for the disgustingly rich will make ordinary workers pay through the nose to transfer yet more wealth to those who do not need it.
    Every attack on workers rights should be opposed with every tool we have. If that means breaking bad laws then so be it.
    I hope every union will support a one day national strike.

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  • The law will come in by this tory govt

    Then they will try and stop will not be able to strike as before nurses are apathetic when it comes to there will not be enough votes returned to strike

    So the enhancements will be removed...then onto the next thing...increments...then sick leave...then holiday pay

    You reep what you sow all you nurses who voted least labour said they would of protected these enhancements

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  • I agree with the first comment here, this will be the beginning of an era of governmental bullying when we're supposed to be promoting anti-bullying in the workplace. Let's face it, the only reason they listened to us last time is because a small minority of us stood up for what we believed in and went on strike.

    Do they not hear the cries of nurses struggling due to shortages? When they promise more posts do they reasonably expect to fill them when they are making it almost unbearable to remain in the profession? Or are they just waiting for the point where they can say that the National Health Service has failed and health needs should be addressed locally and privately by their chums?

    Another question to ask is will future general elections be following the same rule? If less than 50% of people vote in a constituency, does it mean that the votes dont count???

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  • I agree with 14-May-2015 10:48 am in that the government should run by the same rule if they were changed. However I think it is a shame, all the nurses who make comment about what is happening to our profession and the pay, increment concerns etc that we do not become more proactive and vote for striking or not. Why is the turn out so low???? if you don't vote don't moan . stand up for our profession and be counted. Saying that I would never be able to strike with a clear conscience that is how the government have us over a barrel . We can hardly leave patients and wards unattended . we are part of a caring profession

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