Planned changes to strike laws will likely make it harder for trade unions to take legal strike action.
Amongst other measures, the proposed Trade Union Bill will require a 50 per cent turnout from voters if industrial action is to be deemed legal. Additionally, agency staff would be allowed to stand in for striking workers, and a four-month mandate for strike action would be introduced. At present, the law states that a strike is legal if the majority of those who vote support it – regardless of turnout. If the proposed action would affect key public services such as health, education, transport or fire services, a 40 per cent turnout will be required.
These measures will not only make it more difficult for trade unions to gather support for action, but it will make any resulting measures less effective. Recent ballots have seen high levels of support, but it is unclear whether these will be sustainable in future. Moreover, as one legal expert commented, the time limit means that successive high turnouts will be required. “The new four-month time limit on strike ballots is also a critical development – even if unions get a mandate for action, they will have to renew this after four months or call off their action. Levels of support may be weakened by that stage, making a fresh mandate difficult to secure. While this change may avoid long-running low level disruption in reliance on an old mandate, employers may also face more intense and concentrated campaigns as unions seek to build pressure and disruption within the four-month window.” The notice given to employers would double from one to two weeks.
The measures risk unofficial action, such as wildcat strikes, though it is likely that unions will seek to use different tactics such as demonstrations and social media campaigns as well as direct industrial action.
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