Since the new Conservative government was elected, there have been announcements that significant changes will be made to the strike laws which are currently in place. When these changes come into effect, any strike which will affect the public services will need to have the support of 40% of the eligible voting union members. As it stands, a strike can be carried out if it has the support of the majority of those who vote.
Unions have responded to the announcement by saying that the new legislative measures will make legal strikes almost impossible. The new percentage will not be calculated from the number of people who vote, but from the total number of union members who are eligible to vote and therefore could have voted.
These changes will be the first laws to be proposed officially by the new government, and the new law is intended to put a stop to disruptive strikes which are not supported by the majority of those who could take part. For strike action to have legal grounds to be carried out, then at least 50% of eligible union members will have to turn up to the ballot.
As part of the new legislation, the restrictions limiting the employment of agency staff to fill in for workers who are on strike will be lifted. If public sector workers do go on strike after the new legislation has been put into practice, their employers will be able to freely hire agency staff to cover their shifts. This will somewhat detract from the power of striking as a political demonstration, as the public sector services will not necessarily be heavily affected by people taking time off work.
All of the definitive changes, once finalised, will be announced in the Queen’s speech which tok place at the end of May. The amendments to the trade union laws are very similar to those implemented in other countries around the world to curtail the power of trade unions in the public sector.
The TUC has responded by assisting in the organisation of a large demonstration in London which took place on 26 May 2015. The TUC does insist that they have not organised any strike action to take place in response to the proposed changes to the law but they are consolidating their support from the many who believe that the Conservative cuts are too drastic and are happening too quickly.
The new Business Secretary, Sajid Javid, has spoken out, explaining the logic behind the new law, stating that in the past few years, Britain has witnessed strikes which were only voted for by up to 15% of the people working in that profession. He has said this is unfair both for the people trying to ensure the crucial running of the public services and those working in the public sector whose jobs are made much more difficult by a voting minority.
The main idea behind the law is to stop public sector strikes from disrupting the day-to-day running of the country, but it does seem to be taking away a significant bargaining power from people whose jobs are essential to the public sector. There is a lot of opposition to the proposed changes, with some groups having condemned them for punishing people who are working hard in difficult jobs.
The word consistently used by the Conservatives to describe the new legislation is ‘fair’. They believe that it is the ‘fair’ thing to do and that by making the requirements for legal strike action more difficult, they will be significantly improving the smooth running of our vital public services.