DEBATE: With the rail strikes this week, is it time to rethink laws around industrial action?

London Underground 48-hour Tube Strike Affects Rush Hour
Is there is a case for insisting that, as a vital service, the railways may not be so disrupted by strikes? (Source: Getty)

With the rail strikes this week, is it time to rethink laws around industrial action?

Tim Worstall, senior fellow of the Adam Smith Institute and author of Chasing Rainbows: Economic Myths, Environmental Facts, says YES.

Most certainly we should rethink industrial action laws – for we should always be alert to the idea that some laws need to be strengthened, changed or abolished.

More specifically in this instance, with the railways there is a case for insisting that, as a vital service, they may not be so disrupted by strikes. There is a strong argument for change here, as the claimed cause for action (scrapping guards) is so obviously fatuous.

Significant parts of the network already run with only drivers – some parts even without a driver at all. The actions are thus the throwing around of industrial power simply to preserve what are, after all, pretty cushy jobs.

It would not be some dreadful breach of rights if those who work in vital public services lost the ability to strike – as is already true in some such services.

Adding public transport to the list would not be extreme – the debate should be over whether it is proportionate.

Read more: This week's Tube strike has been called off

Sarah Glenister, national development officer at the Institute of Employment Rights, says NO.

The UK already has the most restrictive trade union laws in the Western world, and the number of working days lost to accidents and injuries at work – a hazard that trade union activity has been shown to significantly reduce – far exceeds those lost to industrial action.

With the introduction of anti trade union legislation in recent decades, the UK has seen a dramatic rise in precarious work – including zero-hour contracts, bogus self-employment and agency work – and the exploitation of low-paid workers has repeatedly hit the news. The 2010s are on course to be the worst decade for real wages since the Napoleonic Wars.

It is imperitve to readdress the inherent imbalance of power between employers and workers, thus preserving decent pay and conditions. Without the right to strike, workers lose all leverage at the negotiation table and collective bargaining is reduced to collective begging.

Not only must we preserve the right to strike, we must strengthen it.

Read more: Union votes in favour of Royal Mail strikes

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles