Boris: It must be harder to strike

BORIS Johnson yesterday launched a hard-hitting attack on the power of trade unions in a move that revived suggestions that he is positioning himself to run for leadership of the Conservative party.

Setting out his proposals to combat hard-line union activism, the Mayor of London called for a clampdown on the ability of organised labour to cause "endless disruption and buggeration".

In a move sure to please many in the Conservative party he called for legislation that would limit the ability to strike by forcing key public sector workers - including firefighters, paramedics and London Underground staff - to maintain a minimum level of service at all times.

Strikes would have to be approved by over 50 per cent of balloted union members - not just a majority of those that decide to vote - and rules that ban intimidation of strike-breakers on picket lines would be enforced.

Johnson has no direct ability to change the law but a source close to the Mayor told City A.M. that he has discussed the issue with chancellor George Osborne and wants the measures to be included in the government's forthcoming economic growth Bill.

"I'm very keen not to seem adversarial towards the unions or to be doing this in an aggressive spirit," he told the Mail on Sunday. "What it does is take away unions' power to cause endless grief and stress by threatening strikes."

Johnson said a major concern was the "terrific psychological burden" placed on workers who do not want to strike but are forced to stay at home by the actions of "very small proportion of the relevant workforce".

"People have a human right to withdraw their labour. But we have to think very carefully about how it is done and the effect on people who aren't in the ballot and suddenly find they're co-opted into a strike they don't support."

Last night a TUC spokesperson said the UK's union laws are "already the most restrictive in Europe" and changing the rules "will benefit noone but firms of lawyers".

"Instead of trying to make it even more difficult for employees to have a voice when things are going wrong at work, the Mayor should be concentrating his efforts on improving employer/union relations across the capital," the spokesperson added.

Johnson continues to insist he does not harbour leadership ambitions and he would have to return to the House of Commons as an MP before mounting any such challenge.

However a recent YouGov poll suggested a Johnson-led Conservative party would obliterate Labour's national poll lead, while another showed he is currently Britain's most respected politician.