Unions preparing for battle with the government over new anti-strike rules have ratcheted up the heat with the threat of another Tube strike.
Ahead of the introduction today of the Trade Union Bill – aimed at severely limiting strike action – the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union (RMT) yesterday said it would join the unions Aslef and Unite in another stoppage, from 6.30pm Wednesday 5 August to 10pm the following night.
Experts warned the tough new rules run the risk of inflaming industrial relations, as unions fight for the most effective weapon in their arsenal – the right to strike.
“We have been seeing more and more combative messages from the big unions because they see the government gunning for them and their right to strike,” said employment specialist Nick Le Riche, a partner at Bircham Dyson Bell. “The government has upped the ante and the unions see this as a challenge. If their right to strike is curtailed it threatens their relevance and pushes them into a corner. The last thing they want is to be simply an advisory committee.”
Today’s reforms, which were outlined in the Queen’s Speech at the end of May, call for a 50 per cent threshold for ballot turn-out and an added threshold of 40 per cent of support to take industrial action from key public services such as health, education, fire, transport, border security and energy. Consultation on the bill will close in September.
Announcing the reform, minister Nick Boles said: “People have the right to expect that services on which they and their families rely are not going to be disrupted at short notice by strikes that have the support of only a small proportion of union members.”
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI), which speaks on behalf of 190,000 firms, welcomed the change. Its deputy head Katja Hall said: “The CBI has long called for modernisation of our outdated industrial relations laws to better reflect today’s workforce and current workplace practices. The introduction of thresholds is an important, but fair, step to ensure that strikes have the clear support of the workforce.”
But Paul Kenny, general secretary of the GMB union, said: “The unintended consequence of the parts of the bill dealing with strike action will be to seriously damage industrial relations.
“The bill removes all incentives for employers to heed their own workers and settle disputes.”
Union talks with London Underground and negotiation service Acas are ongoing.