Unions say bill is attack on liberty

Tough new strike law aims to curb militancy in public services

strikersBusiness Secretary Sajid Javid will today introduce measures that will criminalise unlawful picketing, and make strikes more difficult to call legally.

Tough reforms of laws affecting industrial disputes are aimed to curbing union activity in key public services such as teaching, transport, and health.

Lawful strikes will require half of those being asked to take action to cast their vote. Of these, at least 40% must vote for action.

Mr Javid will also propose that unlawful or intimidatory picketing should become a criminal as opposed to a civil offence. He will introduce new protections for those workers unwilling to strike.

A time limit will be imposed on unions to ensure fresh ballots are called and employees will also see the time allowed for union duties reduced.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said the proposed law will make it more difficult for workers to fight for their rights.

“This Bill is an unnecessary attack on workers’ rights and civil liberties that will shift the balance of power in the workplace,” she said.

“Getting a pay rise or defending terms and conditions will become far harder for working people. Even when ballots meet the government’s new thresholds, employers will soon be able to break strikes by bringing in agency workers.

“Making it a criminal offence for seven people to be on a picket line is a waste of police time and not something you would expect in a country with a proud tradition of liberty.

Paul Kenny, the GMB general secretary, warned the reforms would poison industrial relations in the UK.

The number of strikes is markedly lower than during the years of union militancy. An annual average of 13 million days were lost in the 1970s, which fell over the 12 months to April this year to  704,000.

Even so the government says it needs to tackle regular disruption on the London underground and in schools based on small turnouts.

Mr Javid said: “Trade unions have a constructive role to play in representing their members’ interests but our one-nation government will balance their rights with those of working people and business.

“These changes are being introduced so that strikes only happen when a clear majority of those entitled to vote have done so and all other possibilities have been explored.

“This will deliver a key commitment we made in our manifesto.”

Katja Hall, CBI Deputy Director-General said:  “We’re glad the Government has brought forward this Bill, as the CBI has long called for modernisation of our outdated industrial relations laws to better reflect today’s workforce and current workplace practices.

“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.

“We welcome the consultation on modernising picketing rules.  Intimidation or harassment of individuals is never acceptable – and we want to see the current Code of Practice put on a statutory footing and penalties increased to drive out bad behaviour.”





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