Sajid Javid, appointed as Business Secretary in the new Conservative Government, has announced that ‘significant changes’ to public sector strike laws will be included in the Queen’s Speech.
The changes will apply to essential public services such as those affecting health, transport, fire services and schools. Under current rules, a strike is valid if it supported by a majority of those balloted.
However, the changes will mean a trade union calling for a strike in those public services will need the backing of 40% of eligible union members, and there will need to be a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots.
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Mr Javid said: ‘What people are fed up of is strike action that hasn’t been properly supported by the members of the relevant union. We’ve seen, including in the last five years, strike action that took place where perhaps only 10% to 15% of the members of that profession actually voted for it, and that’s not right, it’s unfair, especially when it comes to essential public services. Think of the impact it has – transport, health services – on ordinary people, going about their daily jobs – they should be in people’s minds’.
The Government will also remove restrictions on the use of agency staff to replace striking workers, a move which was welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI).
Katja Hall, CBI deputy director general, said: ‘For nearly five years the CBI has been saying that recruiting agency workers to plug gaps during a strike is not about threatening strikers’ jobs, but providing essential cover during periods of action so businesses can continue to serve their customers. The abolition of this restriction is long overdue’.
She also welcomed the minimum turnout and vote thresholds for strike ballots, saying: ‘The introduction of a threshold is an important – but fair – step to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions’.
However, unions have strongly opposed the proposed reforms. Mick Cash of the RMT union said that trade unions would ‘unite to fight these attacks’, while Frances O’Grady of the TUC said: ‘The government’s proposals on union ballots will make legal strikes close to impossible. Union negotiators will be left with no more power than Oliver Twist when he asked for more’.