Boris and CBI call for extra strike-busting measures

The argument is that strikes shouldn't be allowed unless a decent proportion of the workforce actually votes for them...

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
For those London businesses affected by today's Tube strikes (i.e. most of them), we imagine sympathy for the walk-out will be in relatively short supply. So there's likely to be plenty of support for the CBI's latest proposals, which are aimed at making it harder for unions to call a strike. The employer group wants the rules changed so that 40% of balloted members must vote on a strike (with the majority voting in favour); while Mayor Boris wants to go even further, demanding a 50% threshold. And on the face of it, it does seem a bit unreasonable that strikes can be called on the say-so of a few hard-line nutters...

The CBI argues that the law needs changing to reflect the fact that 85% of private sector staff aren't part of a union (tending to engage with their employer directly) and very rarely strike. As a result, it feels, public attitudes to walk-outs have hardened; that we expect business to continue as usual. That's certainly true of today's Tube strikes, which have been called over plans to cut 800 ticket office jobs. Bob Crow's RMT union says this would compromise safety; but Boris claims that some of these people are selling fewer than 10 tickets an hour (now so much of the ticketing is done online via Oyster cards or via machines). We think we can guess who the majority of Tube passengers would believe.

One of the CBI's main beefs is that strikes can be called no matter what the turnout (even if it's as low as 1%)  as long as a majority votes in favour; as it's said before, it reckons there should be a minimum 40% voting threshold. But today's report goes even further, suggesting a raft of extra measures that would strengthen employers' hands when facing strike action. It says agencies should be allowed to hire replacement workers via agencies (which is currently not allowed); that the notice period should be extended to 14 days, so organisations have more time to prepare; that staff should get to hear both sides of the argument, not just one; and that more steps should be taken to check the growing spread of wildcat strikes.

Some will feel that it's unfair to argue that since union power is on the wane, we should take more powers away from them. And others will no doubt suggest that there’s something profoundly undemocractic about going after the unions like this. But at the same time, we reckon the CBI has a point: the public don't have much sympathy for these walkouts. And if the union isn't even supported in its action by a majority of its members, does it really have a mandate to cause so much disruption and lost productivity?

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