CIPD: Unions warn ‘draconian’ rules will damage industrial relations. Strict rules making it harder for unions to take strike action started their journey through parliament today with the government’s Trade Union Bill. Under the Bill, industrial action will only have a legal mandate if a minimum 50 per cent ballot turnout is achieved.
And there are even tougher requirements for unions representing key services such as health, education, fire, transport, border security and energy sectors. In these important sectors, action will only be legal if 40 per cent of all members eligible to take part in the ballot vote in favour.
The reforms are designed to prevent “a small proportion” of union members causing major disruption to the public at short notice, the government said. In addition to the new ballot thresholds, the Bill sets a four-month limit for action after any vote to ensure that mandate remains timely. The Bill also reforms the rules around the legitimacy of large picket lines and proposes to lift the current ban on using agency workers to break strikes.
The government said changes to picketing rules will create “safeguards” to ensure non-striking members of a workforce are able to go about their business without fear of intimidation.
Employment minister Nick Boles said: “People have the right to expect that services on which they and their families rely are not going to be disrupted at short notice by strikes that have the support of only a small proportion of union members.” However, unions have described the new rules as “draconian” and warn that the changes will undermine relations between employers and their staff.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “These unfair changes will make it much harder for nurses, teaching assistants, midwives and other public sector workers to ever strike for a pay rise or challenge the behaviour of bad employers. “Strikes are rare and the decision to lose a day’s pay is never an easy one – especially for public sector workers who have suffered many years of pay restraint.”
Paul Kenny, GMB general secretary said: “The Bill removes all incentives for employers to heed their own workers and settle disputes.
“When workers jump through the draconian hurdles required for their vote for strike action to be lawful employers can ignore the will of their own workers.
“Workers will have to give an employer 14 days notice of strike action. This is more than enough time for employers to legally hire another workforce to break the strike.”
But bodies representing employers and business, including the CBI and the British Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the reforms.
Katja Hall, CBI deputy director-general, said: “The introduction of thresholds is an important, but fair, step to ensure that strikes have the clear support of the workforce.
“Placing time limits on ballot mandates is an important measure to ensure industrial action is limited to the original dispute and not extended to other matters.”
The Bill also introduces more scrutiny and tighter controls over how public money is used to subsidise trade union ‘facility time’ where workers are paid for conducting union duties during work time.
In addition to this clampdown on union funding the government will require them to provide clearer information to members about what their subscriptions money will be spent on to ensure that they are making an active choice about paying into political coffers.
A consultation on the proposed introduction of a 40 per cent threshold for important public sectors, reforming and modernising the rules and code of practice on picketing and protests linked to industrial disputes, and the repeal of a ban on the use of agency workers open today on the website gov.uk. It will be open for responses until September.