Legislative reform that will make it harder for public sector workers to go on strike has been confirmed in the Queen’s Speech today, marking it as a priority for the new Conservative government.
Before the election, the party proposed a new minimum voting turnout of 50% for those eligible to take part, plus a requirement for at least a 40% majority of those entitled to vote before a strike can take place.
Currently, unions are able to take industrial action with a majority vote, regardless of the turnout.
“My government will bring forward legislation to reform trade unions and to protect essential public services against strikes”
The Queen said today that the government will “bring forward legislation to reform trade unions and to protect essential public services against strikes”.
Also in her speech, which marks the Conservatives’ priorities, she said the government would implement the NHS England’s Five-Year Forward View by increasing the health service’s budget – although she did not state how soon the government would introduce the full £8bn extra a year it has promised by 2020.
In addition, integration of health care and social care, and providing a “seven-day” service that improves access in both general practice and hospitals were promised.
Improved access to mental health care and also to general practitioners were included in the speech as well.
New legislation to prohibit the use of police cells as places of safety for those under 18 years of age who have a mental health problem, as well as new laws to create a single ombudsman for public service complaints, including health, have also been confirmed.
Responding to the proposed changes to strike laws, the Royal College of Midwives policy director Jon Skewes said the plans called into questions the government’s own legitimacy, because it had failed to gain the support of 40% of those eligible to vote in the general election.
“If the government is genuinely concerned about the level of turnout… one constructive step…would be to modernise the rules so those taking part can vote online”
He said: “If the government is genuinely concerned about the level of turnout in these ballots, one positive, constructive step it could take would be to modernise the rules so that, for example, those taking part can vote online.
“Currently those taking part can only vote by post,” he said. “Make it easier for people to participate and you will help increase turnout and in turn make any result more representative of the union’s membership”.
Meanwhile, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has said a failure to include new laws that would help the regulator speed up its fitness to practise cases in the speech demonstrated a “major setback” for the regulator.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said: “This is a major setback and comes despite the government’s undertaking in response to the Francis report into failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.”
She added: “There is an overwhelming consensus that our current legislation is hopelessly out of date inefficient and costly. It does not serve the public or the professions well. We are now left continuing to spend the majority of resources on the few where concerns have been raised.
“We urgently need reform that enables us to regulate nurses and midwives in the twenty-first century and we will continue to press for much needed change which will enable us to serve the professions and the public, well,” said Ms Smith.