Strike action, fox hunting, the BBC, Europe, migrant benefits – never underestimate the Tory capacity to identify things that aren’t problems and then attack them. The number of days lost to strike action is on average less than a tenth of what it was during the 1980s. It’s not even as though strikes are constant – and certainly workers themselves are reluctant to strike because they themselves suffer the most – or have an enormous impact on productivity nowadays. Of far greater impact is the UK’s under-investment in skills, which is something that unions want to work with the government to fix. But the government’s latest proposals will upset the balance between employers and workers, tilting it much too far in employers’ favour and many of the proposals will make it far harder to resolve disputes fairly. Yet good employers know that the best way to resolve problems at work is to sit down with workers and talk it through, trying to find a compromise, rather than using statutory power to ride roughshod over workers’ rights to impose authority by default.
Notoriously the bill introduces a 50% turnout ballot threshold in a strike ballot, but it also requires in the case of public services 40% support from all those eligible to vote which is a benchmark required nowhere else in any section of British society – certainly not in the election of the MPs who will be voting for it. In addition workers will have to give an employer 14 days notice of strike action, and this is more than enough for employers to legally hire another workforce to break the strike, even though these workers may be inexperienced and not properly trained, but expected to cover important roles dealing with the public at short notice. This blatant one-sided approach is guaranteed to poison the relationship between workers and their managers.
The proposal on opting into the political fund is also wholly one-sided. It is clearly designed to throttle Labour funding and to make the Labour party bankrupt by cutting off the main source of funds that they have relied on since the 1930s. It is clearly also aimed at undermining political campaigning by unions on behalf of their members and communities. It sticks out like a sore thumb however that there are no proposals to force companies to ballot shareholders or place a cap on donations from wealthy people when funding the Tory party.
The Tory proposals may also criminalise peaceful picketing such as when a seventh person joins a picket line. Is this really how we want to use police time – arresting the seventh nurse on the picket line outside the hospital where they work? If the Tories were really concerned about improving workplace democracy, they’d commit to on-line balloting, an easy and secure way of letting workers have their say. But they’re not, and it exposes what an utter sham it is for the Tories to claim to be anything remotely like a workers’ party.