The new trade union laws announced today aren't like something out of Nazi Germany, as the head of train drivers' union Aslef has melodramatically claimed, but they do represent some of the most substantial potential changes to organised labour rules since the times of Margaret Thatcher.
The Trade Union Bill, which will be presented to the House of Commons today, proposes to prohibit strikes that are decided on a turnout of less than 50%, as well as those based on a ballot taken more than four months previously. The overall aim of the bill is clearly reduce the number of working hours lost to strike action.
'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,' said the new business secretary Saijd Javid, who appropriately has a picture of Thatcher hanging on his office wall. '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.'
Many of the bill's details have been trailed in the press since Javid took over after the election. Other proposals include regulations to control picket lines (presumably to make it easier to cross them), ditching the ban on using agency workers to cover those on strike, and forcing unions to give employers two weeks' notice before downing tools - up from the current seven days.
The rules will go further in some industries, forcing unions working in transport, energy, healthcare and education to get the consent of at least 40% of staff before striking. That should hopefully mean less business disruption as a result of tube and train walkouts.
On the face of it these changes seem undeniably beneficial to businesses, but judging by the outraged responses it has provoked from union leaders it seems the bill is unlikely to pass without great unrest.