The CBI’s anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic

The CBI want the strike laws to be toughened in such a way that a 40 per cent “yes” vote would be needed before a strike was allowed. We learn from The Times today that “secret” talks are going on about introducing new curbs on industrial action.

Our guest writer is Sarah Veale, head of equality and employment rights at the TUC

The CBI want the strike laws to be toughened in such a way that a 40 per cent “yes” vote would be needed before a strike was allowed. We learn from The Times today that “secret” talks are going on about introducing new curbs on industrial action. It would be surprising if the Coalition Government wasn’t discussing strikes, given the scale of their proposed cuts in the public sector.

What self respecting union wouldn’t be discussing industrial action, among other things. Thousands of jobs are to be lost, pensions are to be reduced, working conditions for those left in employment will be much tougher.

Unions will do what they always do, negotiate first but if that doesn’t deliver significantly, ask their members if they want to withdraw their labour in protest.

It is a hallmark of any democracy that workers can withdraw their labour for good reason. In the UK we have some of the toughest restrictions on striking in any democratic country. In fact there is no right to strike in the UK – simply a set of immunities from prosecution if a number of regulatory hurdles are jumped.

For example, employers must be given notice of intended strike ballots, then of the strike itself, within a strictly prescribed timeframe and in a strictly prescribed way. To make one small error can cause the whole strike to be declared illegal by the courts, even if 99 per cent voted in favour of it.

As Unite found out last Christmas, accidentally balloting a very small number of staff who had just been made redundant was enough to warrant court intervention, even though the numbers involved would have made absolutely no difference to the result. There are other tough regulatory hurdles to clear including the wording on the ballot papers, the timing of the notices to employers and the nature of the dispute. On top of all this, by law unions must use prescribed balloting organisations, at considerable cost, to run the ballots.

At the moment a simple majority of those balloted must vote in favour for the strike to be legal. The CBI proposals would mean that not only must there be a majority but in addition 40 per cent of those balloted must vote “yes”. In other words abstentions and non-voting would count as votes against. If these rules were to be applied to, say, local authority elections, there would be very few councils operating.

The UK not only has some of the strictest strike laws, already rendering it in contravention of ILO Conventions and internationally recognised human rights protections but it also has one of the lowest numbers of days lost to industrial action of any country. You could argue that that this means that the existing laws are a great success – indeed that is what the Conservative manifesto said but with the ominous threat of doing more if industrial action became a problem.

One final point is that any further restrictions on an already over-regulated area are likely to stimulate unofficial action of the kind more often seen in France and Greece recently – when workers are really angry they are unlikely to wait for lengthy ballots or indeed take any notice of harsh court decisions – they will vote with their feet. Does the Government really want industrial anarchy or, as the Liberal Democrats said in their manifesto, fairness at work?

24 Responses to “The CBI’s anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic”

  1. robwinder

    RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  2. leebo

    RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  3. George Woods

    RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  4. Philip M

    RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  5. Robert

    Yes but unofficial action will be carried out because the workers want it, problem is when you speak about the TUC or a Union, what your meaning is the people, the workers, will they strike, difficult at the moment, even the BA strike was breaking down. The good old days of the red Ken have gone less interest in strikes these days. You can see this by the lack of interest being shown by people who have disabilities, sick, you know workers who had accidents, I did not see the Unions or labour party people say a word.

    Right now I’d not go on strike for New labour thats for sure.

  6. winston k moss

    RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  7. B Latif

    RT @leftfootfwd: The #CBI's anti-#strike rhetoric is anti-#democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  8. Andy Sutherland

    RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  9. Nadia

    Amen. Pure capitalism though. RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa.

  10. ToUChstone blog

    TUC employment rights head Sarah Veale writes for @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  11. Stronger Unions

    RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  12. Goldsmiths UCU

    RT @strongerunions: RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  13. Leischa

    RT @touchstoneblog: TUC employment rights head Sarah Veale writes for @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic: http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  14. Yancey Thomas

    The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic | Left Foot Forward http://bit.ly/aEjn8L

  15. Mr. Sensible

    Sarah, I don’t normally like strikes, but there is a very easy way that the government can avoid these disputes; go back to the drawing board and start again.

    I notice today that Cameron has said he won’t be re-examining this issue.

    What some people seem to forget in this case is that public services are at stake here. And these cuts are entirely avoidable, for reasons which I won’t bore readers with again.

    I notice today that the Communication Workers’ Union has canceled its strike ballot of BT workers due to legal advice. This is the third time we’ve had legal intervention, following BA as you highlight and I believe the courts interveaned in the Network Rail dispute over Easter.

    I find it interesting how bosses think they can acheave meaningful talks whilst at the same time going down the litigation route?

  16. mike

    CBI called for parthershp partnership partnership for 13 years
    then after May smash the unions

    So why did the CBI change its mind in May

    13 years of CBI lies

  17. Sean

    The representative of Chamber of Commerce spokesperson states today on Today that the public sector should not only lose 1.3m jobs but also have a pay cut, similar to that in the private sector.

    What FTSE 100 Director has taken a pay cut on their basic pay, Directors pay is actually up as are bankers bonuses

    He also says Redundancies should be cut, and the coalition has stated redundancies should be similar to best practise in private sector. OK will they match the bankers redundancy agreements as best practise

  18. Robert

    13 years of CBI lies, yes yes yes, hold on a minute what did new labour do to make it better, oh yes sorry sod all.

    The fact is New labour old Tories two pea’s in the same pod one could say yea.

  19. Mark Walker

    RT @leftfootfwd: The CBI's anti-strike rhetoric is anti-democratic http://bit.ly/brTgYa

  20. Mr. Sensible

    Sean, I agree.

    In this time when we’re supposed to be cutting back company directors in the FTSE 100 have seen their pay go up.

    Isn’t that outragious?

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