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”
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”
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.