Unions condemn Tory plans to toughen up strike ballots

The list of Cabinet members who failed to secure 40% of the vote. They would not have been elected had the same criteria been imposed as strike ballots

The list of Cabinet members who failed to secure 40% of the vote. They would not have been elected had the same criteria been imposed as strike ballots

Half the members of the new Tory Cabinet were elected on less than 40% of the electorate – failing the government’s own trade union legitimacy test.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid, himself elected by 38.3% of the electorate, yesterday announced new rules concerning strike ballots.

The proposal is that a ballot result would only be valid if: (1) at least 50% of members vote in them and (2) at least 40% of all members vote to support the action.

Therefore, the bare minimum will be 80% yes with a 50% turnout. meaning trade union strike ballots would no longer be declared by a simple majority, but would only become valid if 40% of members voted in them.

But at the same time he refused to allow union members to vote online or in the workplace, insisting they continue to use the method introduced by Margaret Thatcher – postal votes sent to their home address.

The plans were widely condemned by unions. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This is a government not so much on the side of hard-working people but Britain’s worst bosses – those who want their staff to be on zero-hours contracts, poverty pay and unable to effectively organise in a union so that they can do something about it.

“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. After five years of falling living standards the prospects for decent pay rises have just got a whole lot worse.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “This is a typically vindictive and hypocritical move by the Tories, who were voted in by just 24% of the electorate. The fact they are refusing to talk to us about modernising ballots to make them easier for more people to take part tells us everything we need to know.”

The list of Cabinet members who failed to secure 40% of the vote is:

Business secretary Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) 38.3%

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) 31.4%

Education secretary Nicky Morgan (Loughborugh) 35.4%

International development secretary Justine Greening (Putney) 36%

Energy secretary Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) 30.1%

Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire Dales) 39%

Scottish secretary David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale) 30.2

Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) 33%

Wales secretary Stephen Crabb (Preseli Pembrokeshire) 28.6%

Environment secretary Liz Truss (Norfolk South West) 33.1%

Chancellor of Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Letwin (Dorset West) 36.1%

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner, who has been leading the union’s efforts to modernise voting, said: “The divisive face of Conservatism has not taken long to reveal its face with the new business secretary Sajid Javid suggesting a 50% turnout of all eligible union members voting for industrial action, instead of the straight majority now required.

“It is a terrible shame and a big mistake that one of the government’s first acts is to attempt to reduce rights for working people that even past Tory administrations have upheld.

“Voters did not put a tick in the box for this, especially as David Cameron has pledged that he wanted to reach out to all corners of Britain in the traditions of One Nation Conservatism.

“Many of the electors, who provided the Tories with their slim majority, are working people concerned about justice and fairness in the workplace.

“They won’t understand why this proposal is coming from a new administration with just 36.9 per cent of the vote to underpin its legitimacy.

“Unite urges Sajid Javid and his colleagues think long and hard about this move as there are better ways of improving the mechanisms for industrial action ballots, such as electronic voting and ballots at the workplace.

“We are open for constructive discussions with ministers on these issues.”

RCM’s Director for Policy, Employment Relations and Communications Jon Skewes said: “These thresholds would make it virtually impossible for workers to take action and deny employees their democratic voice.  Industrial action is a last resort for trade unions and when the RCM took industrial action in England and during our current action in Northern Ireland we have worked in partnership with employers to maintain essential services and ensure safety.”

“The fact of the matter is that we have institutions for determining pay and conditions in the NHS (the NHS Staff Council and the NHS Pay Review Body) which trade unions, employers and the government all honour and abide by. Last year the first industrial action over pay in 30 years for the NHS and 133 years for the RCM occurred because the government and employers rejected the recommendations of the independent Pay Review Body.

“This announcement deals with the symptom of industrial unrest but not the cause, had the government and employers continued to honour the negotiating institutions there would not have been a problem.

“The government should work with trade unions and employers in partnership to build good working relationships and to achieve consensus. This is far more productive than imposing voting thresholds that the government did not even meet in the election.”


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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