NHS staff and other public sector workers would in the future only be able to go on strike with a 40% majority vote among eligible union members, the Conservative Party has pledged.
If the Tories win the general election later this year, the party has vowed to introduce new legislation which would make it more difficult for “essential services” workers – such as those from health, education, transport and the fire services – to take industrial action.
Currently, a strike can go ahead if the majority of those voting are in favour of action, regardless of how many union members are ballotted.
The Conservatives have previously announced their intention to introduce a 50% turnout threshold for all strike ballots.
“Sadly, low turnouts and low ballot majorities for industrial action are becoming the norm”
If such rules already existed, they would have had a serious impact on the current pay dispute between the government and NHS unions. Recent strikes by NHS workers over pay have seen varying levels of voting turnout across different unions.
Unison’s ballot results last autumn 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 Royal College of Midwives had a much higher turnout – 49.4% – in its ballot over the same pay row, in which 82.2% voted for strike action.
The RCM has labelled the proposed measures as “disgraceful,” claiming they would end workers’ fundamental rights to protest if they were to go ahead.
“It will put an enormous amount of power over workers back into the hands of employers and will leave those workers without any redress against abuses of that power,” said Jon Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications
Other changes that will form part of the Conservatives’ election manifesto include ending the ban on using agency staff to cover for striking workers and conducting a review into the use of minimum service levels so people could “rely on core public services being there,” the party said.
Announcing the proposed changes, transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “It’s not fair that politicised trade union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members actually voted for.
“Sadly, low turnouts and low ballot majorities for industrial action are becoming the norm,” he said. “Of the 102 strike ballots between August 2010 and December 2014, nearly two thirds failed to attract half of union members even turning up to vote.”
He described the plans as “radical proposals,” which he claimed would support British people and restore confidence in the trade unions.