Demand for new laws to defeat unions

THE coalition is under pressure to introduce new curbs on industrial action as fears grow that union bosses will call a series of winter strikes despite winning the backing of only a minority of members.

Dominic Raab, a prominent Tory backbencher, told City A.M. there was an “overwhelming” case for extra “safeguards” after a day on which nurses, teachers and civil servants and other public sector workers walked out over pensions reform. Unions put the total at 2m.

Raab said: “Some unions had backing from just one in five of their own members... It is not right for a militant minority to hold the hard-working majority across public and private sectors to ransom.”

Ministers pointed to the weak mandate for strike action at most unions, including Unison, Unite and GMB, the three largest public sector unions, which claimed victory in a strike ballot on turnout of only 29 per cent, 31 per cent and 33 per cent respectively.

Yesterday more than half of state schools were shut, nearly 150,000 civil servants stayed away from work and police were called in to support the Ambulance Service as 30 unions took action over demands they retire later and pay more into pension schemes.

David Cameron branded the strike a “damp squib” and Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said it was “inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible” to go on strike while negotiating. Workers say, however, that the government’s decision to make a “final offer” shows it is not negotiating.

Unions are threatening more strikes after George Osborne used Tuesday’s Autumn Statement to cut an extra 300,000 public sector jobs.

Prof Alan Manning from the Centre for Economic Performance at the LSE, said: “There are many areas of conflict between the public sector and government. They are unlikely to be resolved very soon.”