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Conservatives call for tighter rules on public sector strikes

Conservative cabinet office minister Francis Maude has outlined plans to tighten rules around public sector strike ballots.

Maude proposed withdrawing legal protection for striking workers unless unions could prove that half or more of their members had voted for the strike. 

He added he also wished to prevent unions taking action on mandates that are more than two years old.

"It can't be right that the unions can come back year after year, based on a mandate that is several years old, in order to call strike action that can cause real harm, not just to our children but also to hard-working parents," he said.

While unlikely to come in under the current coaltion Government, if the change were to be enacted in the next parliament, unions would be at risk of being sued for damage caused by a strike if they do not have the votes of at least 50% of their members for the strike. 

The announcement comes ahead of widespread industrial action on 10 July, including members from Unite, UNISON and the TUC, among others.

Unite national officer Fiona Farmer told HR magazine the union's members felt they had "no option" but to strike after years of pay restraint in the public sector.

"Come October, local government workers will actually see their pay drop below the minimum wage, due to inflation," she said. "We don't believe employers in the public sector are standing up for their workforce."

Louise Tibbert, HR director for Hertfordshire County Council and chair of the Public Sector People Managers' Association (PPMA), told HR magazine continuing budget restraints in the public sector mean many employers' hands are tied regarding pay.

"We know that public sector workers don't take action lightly," she said. "My council and others are trying hard to increase staff engagement and working conditions, but pay increases in the sector would lead to job losses, which is something nobody wants."