New business minister Sajid Javid said he will use his first days in office to tighten rules surrounding strikes, saying that the Tory government’s Queen’s Speech would introduce thresholds for strike ballots.
Under the proposals, strikes affecting public services would need the backing of 40 per cent of eligible union members. Strikes are currently valid if they receive the approval of the majority of those balloted.
“I think it’s essential to make these changes,” Javid said, adding that under the government’s proposals, at least half of union members would need to vote in strike ballots in order for the ballots to be validated.
The move comes as British travellers gear up for widespread delays after it was announced yesterday that members of the RMT union voted four-to-one for a nationwide rail strike.
Business groups threw their weight behind the Conservatives’ proposals, with Katja Hall, deputy director of the CBI, saying it had “long been calling” for such measures.
“Strikes should always be the result of a clear, positive decision by those balloted,” Hall said. “The introduction of a threshold is an important but fair step to rebalance the interests of employers, employees, the public and the rights of trade unions.”
Institute of Directors’ head of campaigns Christian May also backed the Tory plan, telling City A.M.: “The right to strike is a fundamental part of our democracy, but that does not mean that public sector unions should be able to bring mass disruption to commuters, parents and people who need public services on the basis of flimsy votes.”
A spokesperson for the RMT told City A.M. that Javid’s plans would not have affected their ballot this time around, as it had a 60 per cent voter turnout.
“It’s just designed to be seen as bashing the trade unions,” the spokesperson said. “The point is that the Tories are ideologically opposed to any form of collective bargaining.”
Sarah Veale of the Trade Union Congress also hit out at the plan. “It doesn’t happen in any other type of election,” she said. “It’s astonishing to me that on the morning that Cameron is claiming to be the party of blue-collar workers, he’s introducing legislation against workers,” Veale said.
Earlier in the day, the Prime Minister said the Conservatives were “the real party of working people.”
Javid is expected to pursue an aggressively pro-business approach in his new position. When asked by the BBC how he would differ from his predecessor, Vince Cable, Javid, an avowed Thatcherite, said: “Whenever I look at any decision, in terms of whether that’s creating more jobs, boosting growth, greater investment in our economy, I’ll be looking towards free enterprise and what more deregulation we can have.”
Some dealmakers told City A.M. yesterday that the ministerial switch from Vince Cable to Javid would make little difference to M&A activity in the Square Mile, describing the former regime as fairly permissive. However, a top US investment banker in London was more enthusiastic. “If you are trying to persuade people in the US to do a deal in the UK, having Cable there would make people nervous,” he said. “The Tories are seen wanting to attract inward investment, and that makes it easier for bankers to go to investors and tell the story.”