Conservatives pledge public sector strike curbs
The Conservative Party says it will make it harder to call strikes in public services if it wins the general election.
Under the plans, a strike affecting health, transport, fire services or schools would need the backing of 40% of eligible union members.
Currently, a strike is valid if backed by a simple majority of those balloted.
The Tories have already proposed a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots.
They would also end a ban on using agency staff to cover for striking workers, impose a three-month time limit after a ballot for action to take place and curbs on picketing.
The package of measures will feature in the party’s manifesto for May’s general election.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said that a planned London bus strike on Tuesday 13 January had been voted for by 16% of people entitled to take part in the ballot, and called the walk-out “ridiculous”.
“I think before a strike is allowed to go ahead it must have much more support from the union members and cannot be called by politicised union leaders,” he said.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, responded that participation in strike ballots and other types of vote should be improved by introducing online voting, in “safe and secure balloting”.
At the moment, strikes can only be called based on the results of a postal ballot – which “don’t do the job”, Ms O’Grady added.
She said the government “continues to oppose this proposition”, although Mr McLoughlin replied he would be willing to talk “in more detail” about such proposals.
Ministers have repeatedly clashed with trade unions over pay – with a 1% cap on increases in the public sector – as well as changes to pensions and retirement ages.
Last summer hundreds of thousands of public sector workers took part in a day of strike action across the UK, with Prime Minister David Cameron saying it was “time to legislate”.
But he added: “It is wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for. “
He said the changes would be introduced in the first session of a Conservative-led Parliament.
“It is only fair that the rights of unions are balanced with the rights of others”
Labour criticised the plans as “desperate stuff”.
Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said the proposed measures would make it “virtually impossible for anyone in the public sector to go on strike”.
This, he added, would “shift the balance completely in favour of the government and employers, and away from dedicated public servants.
“The UK already has tough laws on strikes – there is no need to make them stricter still.”