Unions’ dismay as new strike law announced

The TUC claims the government is threatening a fundamental British liberty


The government has today announced new legislation introducing new strike thresholds for ‘important public services’. It means that strikes in certain sectors – fire, health, education, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning – will require the support of 40 per cent of union members entitled to vote and a 50 per cent turnout in order to legally go ahead.

Employment minister Nick Boles said the new law was a way of reassuring the public that any strike which causes disruption in their daily lives is justified by the backing of a reasonable proportion of union members. But unions are not convinced the case has been made.

Responding to the announcement, the TUC’s general secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The government is set on introducing tougher measures to make it harder for teachers, doctors and other public servants to defend their jobs and the services we all rely on. Now, with government cuts making services worse for patients, pupils and passengers, staff will find it far harder to raise their concerns. And we will all feel the impact in the long-term.

“The decision to go on strike is never one people take lightly. It’s a last resort, when employers won’t listen and won’t compromise. The government is wrong to threaten this fundamental British liberty.”

She added:

“Ministers have done their utmost to try and brainwash the public into thinking that strikes are out of control. However, days lost to strike action are just a tiny fraction of what they were in the 1980s. And they accounted for a miniscule 0.0035 per cent of all working days between October 2014 and October 2015.

“These new thresholds will have the perverse effect of making abstentions more powerful in strike ballots than ‘no’ votes – and yet increasing participation in union democracy is something the government claims to want.”

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward

27 Responses to “Unions’ dismay as new strike law announced”

  1. Jacko

    So it’s 40% of a 50% turnout? So just 20% of all members have to vote yes, and you consider that punitive, unfair legislation?

    Surely if workers were experiencing a genuine, compelling grievance one would expect far more than 20% of members to vote ‘yes’. Of course, if you were a union leader with an extreme political agenda, trying to use your union to exercise disproportionate leverage on the county to further your own political agenda, you might well be concerned, since you know that only a relatively small group of militants in your union would be interested in striking.

    I expect someone on here will trot out the lame comparison with general elections. Let me answer that now.

    1. General elections are not binary ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions: there are several choices, so it’s very unlikely any result gains more than 40% of the vote.

    2. People opt to join a union and pay fees to do so. One would therefore expect their level of engagement with the voting process to be far higher that than the entire voter-eligible population of the UK.

  2. Dave Stewart

    It is also worth noting that while banging on about how they want to increase participation in strike ballots as a drive behind these changes the government has flatly refused to allow changes to the way ballots may be conducted (which they use themselves in their own party) which would make participation significantly easier for TU members.

  3. Dave Stewart

    So in the up coming EU referendum presumably you think that every registered voter that does not exercise their right to vote will be voting for the status quo?

  4. Jacko

    Their views will be unknown. What do you suggest?

  5. Dave Stewart

    That is my point their views will be unknown so it would be wrong to assume either way. Likewise when someone chooses not to vote in an industrial action ballot their views are unknown and it would be wrong to assume either way. Any effort to increase participation is of course welcome but as I said in my earlier post the government have flatly rejected all of the proposals that have been shown to actually increase participation (work place ballots and/or eballots). When you take that into account it is clear that the motive behind this has nothing to do with improving work place democracy but with making it harder and harder for public sector workers to make their voices heard. Which is a particularly salient point in the context of massive budget and service cuts in the public sector.

  6. bristoleastman

    No. Because you’ve misunderstood the rule. If 20% of members voted yes then the requirement that 40% *of those entitled to vote* vote yes would not be met and the strike would be illegal. In fact, to meet the requirement on a 50% turnout, 80% of voters would have to cast a positive vote.

  7. blarg1987

    How about votes on company policies in PLC’s? And the social and economic disruption they cause, should they not also be under the same trade unions laws?

  8. Sid

    But surely the union should have to get over 50% of those eligable to vote if a strike is to go ahead.

  9. Peter Walker

    This is a law passed by a government that received the support of 24% of the electorate – and most of them were duped by Cameron’s lies.

  10. Jacko

    I haven’t misunderstood the rule.

    A ‘yes’ vote requires the equivalent of 20% of all members voting yes, if just the required 50% turnout was made.

  11. Jacko

    What’s special about union members that makes it exceptionally difficult for them to cast a vote? What’s the problem? I’ve been a union member. I just ticked the form and put it in the box. So what?

  12. bristoleastman

    Think some more about this please. If the requirement is 40% of those *entitled to vote* (not of those who actually do vote) then that’s a requirement that stands independently of turnout (for which there is a *separate* condition, namely 50%).

  13. Dave Stewart

    Put it in the box?

    May I ask when that was?

    All industrial action ballots now need to be conducted by post usually with the correspondence going to a of mixture of personal and work addresses (depending on what the member indicated as their preference upon joining, in practice people seldom remember what they chose).

    I did not say that it is particularly difficult for members to cast their vote, my point was that if this was actually about improving turn out the government would be considering proposals that have been shown to improve turnout. What they are doing instead is effectively making abstentions (i.e not voting) count as no votes.

  14. Jacko

    But it’s not about improving turnout. Who has claimed that it was? No-one cares about people who can’t be bothered to vote. I couldn’t care less. That’s their business. All people care about is that a small group of militant socialist-worker extremists are not able to impose their minority viewpoint and close London Underground for 48 hours whenever they feel like it. If that means requiring more people to turn out and vote then so be it. How you get those people to vote is a matter for the union, not the government, or society.

    Incidentally, seeing as you ask, let me illustrate my union experience with a true story.

    I was about eighteen years old, it was my first job. I had been working there about three weeks. One day I was called in for a lunchtime meeting with three union reps. Three men, fifties, sitting behind a tressle table.

    “We’ve had reports,” said the man in the middle, “of you picking up waste paper off the factory floor and putting it in a bin.”

    “Is this true?” demanded of his colleagues. “Did you pick up waste paper and put it in a bin?”

    “Er, well, um…” I had to stop and think. What on earth could I have done wrong? For a moment I couldn’t even remember any incidents of picking up paper. But then I did remember. Yes, I had to admit it, I had picked up waste paper off the factory floor and put it in a rubbish bin.

    “You must NEVER do that again,” shouted the union rep. “We have people employed to clean up, and if you start cleaning up as well as doing your job, you would be doing the work of TWO MEN!”

    “Two men!” said his friend, angrily. “For one man’s wages!”

    “If we ever hear of you picking up paper off the factory floor again, you will be in VERY SERIOUS TROUBLE.”

    More than anything, that explains my contempt for trade unions.

  15. Tynam

    Since you want to point out the ways in which strike ballots aren’t general election votes, let me point out one you carelessly missed:

    A ‘yes’ vote can cost you lost wages, work, time, and bad blood with your employer.

    In today’s desperate economy, a lot of union members are easily intimidated out of striking. With millions living hand-to-mouth or dependant on food banks, some people can’t afford to strike.

    *That’s* why 40% (NOT 20%; you have not understood the rules) is unrealistic.

  16. Dave Stewart

    So based on your one anecdote (which if true is pretty bad) you feel it right that it should be made increasingly harder for people to take industrial action and that abstentions should always count as no votes.

    Also while the government hasn’t said it is about getting better turn outs their main complaint, that a minority of workers who vote can result in industrial action which the majority of workers haven’t actively voted for, could be easily addressed by increasing turn out. Increasing turn out is in everyones best interest whereas this move is clearly designed to restrict peoples right to take industrial action.

    Again I’ll ask because you never answered previously, in the up coming EU referendum do you think that registered voters who do not chose to exercise their vote should have their abstentions counted as votes for the status quo? A simple yes or no would be nice.

  17. Michael Anasakta

    Unions are the expression of democracy in the workplace. In the exercise of that democracy it is open to union members to decide whether or not to attend a strike meeting and whether or not to to participate in the vote. The majority of votes cast determine the outcome. But maybe what is good for the goose is good for the gander, so perhaps Minister Noles will apply his new rules to not only unions but to the next election in his riding.

  18. Michael Anasakta

    It is often true that a minority of workers run a union local. No, that is not the result of a nefarious conspiracy but the result of the majority of workers seemingly complacent enough to not bother to attend union meetings. Jacko’s theory of what union members should do is simply a theory that flies in the face of facts.

  19. Michael Anasakta

    Jacko, I sincerely hope you don’t do tax returns for friends.

  20. Chasityrupchurch3

    This is a law passd by a goernmnt that received the spport of 2 of the eectorate – and

  21. Chasityrupchurch3

    This is a law passd by a goernmnt that received the sppf 2 of the eectorate – and

  22. Chasityrupchurch3

    This is a law passd by a goernmnt that received the spport of 2 ctorate – and

  23. Chasityrupchurch3

    This is a law passd by a goernmnt that receivehe spport of 2 of the eectorate – and

  24. Chasityrupchurch3

    This is a law passd by a goernmnt that received the spport of 2 of tectorate – and

  25. Chasityrupchurch3

    This is a law passd by a goernmnt that received the spport of he eectorate – and

  26. Chasityrupchurch3

    This is a law passd by a goernmnt that received the spport of the eectorate – and

  27. Chasityrupchurch3

    This is a law passd by a goernmnt that receivpport of 2 of the eectorate – and

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