Trade Union Bill provokes anger from unions

A TUC march last year/Amer Ghazzal REX Shutterstock

The Government has launched its Trade Union Bill – its legislation designed to toughen up existing laws on strike action.

The Bill, which has had its first reading in Parliament, proposes a threshold of 50% turnout in strike ballots.

There will be an additional minimum ballot threshold of 40% of all eligible members in core public services including health, education, fire and border security.

It will also set a four-month time limit for industrial action to ensure that mandates are recent, and require a clear description of the dispute and planned action on the ballot paper, so union members know what they are voting for.

The Bill also sets out plans to repeal a ban on the use of agency workers to cover for those on strike.

The Government claims that the proposed legislation, which it hinted at in the Queen’s Speech in May, will create greater transparency around union practices and “ensure strikes are the result of a clear and positive democratic mandate from union members”.

Business Secretary Sajid 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.”

Trade unions reacted in anger to the legislation. Mick Whelan, general secretary of train drivers’ union Aslef, said the tougher laws “smacked of Germany in the 1930s”.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, meanwhile, said that the Bill was “a slippery slope towards worse rights for all”.

Last weekend, members of Britain’s biggest union, Unite, voted in favour of removing a clause in its rules requiring members to stay within the law when staging protests.

The union removed the clause “so far as may be lawful” from its rules governing members’ actions, paving the way for unlawful strikes.

But business group the CBI welcomed what it called “a modernisation of our outdated industrial relations laws”.

Deputy director-general Katja Hall said: “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.”

The first consultations on the Bill have opened and will close on 9 September 2015.

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