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Strike law proposals response to 'yesterday's problems'

The government’s proposals on strike laws are a response to “yesterday’s problems”, the CIPD has said

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese has warned that the proposals fail to reflect the reality of modern workplaces. “The number of days lost to strike action has dropped by more than 90% in the last 20 years and industrial action today increasingly takes the form of protest action rather than all-out strikes, making the legislation even less warranted,” he said.

“It’s time to start talking about prevention rather than cure when it comes to strike action and the public sector’s workforce challenges in particular. Taxpayers’ interests are best served by an efficient, engaged and productive public sector workforce. We need to see more consultation and ongoing dialogue with workers, rather than the introduction of mechanisms that reflect the industrial relations challenges of the 1980s."

He added: “To jump straight to legislating strike activity without considering this seems to be a significant step back."

The Trade Union Bill (introduced in July) is designed to reform the current framework of trade union law. The Bill introduces thresholds that strike ballots must meet, gives employers greater chance to prepare through requiring staff to give a 14-day notice period, and relaxes restrictions on using agency workers during strikes.

CIPD employee relations adviser Mike Emmott said that using agency workers during strikes may not prove to be effective. “There is nothing in existing legislation to stop employers from recruiting replacement staff, providing they hire them directly and not through an employment agency, but we have little evidence that employers take this option,” he said.

“Some employers might be interested in hiring temporary agency workers to maintain operations during industrial action. However, in most cases they would find it difficult to recruit suitably qualified workers, and few employment agencies will want to get involved in industrial disputes."

Paul Kenny, general secretary of trade union GMB, warned the Bill will damage employer-union relationships. “The Bill removes all incentives for employers to heed their own workers and settle disputes,” he said. “Employees will have to give an employer 14 days' notice of strike action. This is more than enough time for employers to legally hire another workforce to break the strike.

“This blatant one-sided approach is guaranteed to poison the relationship between workers and their managers. It will lead to even more trouble.”