· News

Hot topic: strike reform

New business secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed that the Tories will push ahead with tougher anti-strike laws. But are these stricter rules to be welcomed? Or could stronger regulation backfire?

The Conservative party has barely let the dust settle on the election before confirming plans to move ahead with its strike reform proposals.

They are in response to a number of recent strikes that have caused significant disruption to business and consumers, despite not being supported by a majority of the workforce. This situation has arisen because a lawful strike needs only the support of a majority of the workers voting, meaning that low turnouts can still result in legitimate action.

Trade unions are highly opposed to reform, stating that the proposals will make legal strikes “close to impossible”. But is this really the case? There will be a significant impact on sectors that have traditionally seen low levels of turnout, for example in public and civil services – where not only a 50% turnout but also a 40% threshold of support will apply. Whether this will lead to a reduction in strikes remains to be seen.

Illegal strike activity seems unlikely but a potential side effect of the proposals is unions adopting a more militant approach in an attempt to galvanise workforces into turning out and voting. In addition, a number of sectors have historically had high levels of turnout in support of industrial action and would already meet the new thresholds. In the rail industry, the RMT just obtained a 60% turnout with an 80% vote in favour of strike action. 

Where lawful strike action does take place, being able to use agency workers for cover may not be the ideal solution; this is potentially a piecemeal approach that does not meet the needs of employers or customers.

Whatever the ultimate impact going forward, it seems we can expect the changes to be brought into effect sooner rather than later.

Tom Kerr Williams is a partner at law firm DLA Piper

Check back tomorrow for part two of this Hot Topic.