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Jonathan Lewis considers whether proposals to limit strike action are detrimental to workers.

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There have been more than a few newspaper articles about proposed changes to the rules on strike action. To be honest the most entertaining bits were the comments sections. Nothing against the authors of the articles, but the readers have not held back their views, grabbing the opportunity to enter into an ideological scrap with both hands. Politics aside though, what do the proposed changes really mean and how are they likely to affect “the people”?

The Trade Union Bill makes a number of proposals that are controversial, going by the number of online comments. The most publicised proposals relate to new thresholds that will have to be met for strike action to be lawful: The first is that 50% of those entitled to vote in any strike ballot must turn out. The second threshold, which only affects those in core public services such as education and health, requires 40% of those entitled to vote (not those who turn out) to vote in favour of industrial action.

The first threshold appears largely uncontroversial, especially given the current mood following the recent rail strikes. In truth, these strikes would probably have happened regardless of the 50% threshold. It is reported that the unions had turnout well above this limit. The more controversial of the two thresholds is undoubtedly the second. This is not necessarily because it is wrong to put an additional threshold on key public services. There should be a higher hurdle in place given the more significant consequences of a strike in those sectors. However, many commentators have simply taken the view that 40% is too high a threshold. I do not agree with this. Having spoken to a friend of mine, who is a teacher and would therefore be impacted by the proposals, he was of the view that these thresholds would positively encourage him to vote. After all, every vote would really matter. If every union member employed in core public services takes this view then there is very little for the unions to worry about. Their turnout would increase and the unions would only have to worry about convincing 40% of their members that a strike was necessary. If it truly was then this should not be a problem.

Some argue that the proposals act as a bar on striking, an attack on the unions. However they may actually provide a better opportunity for unions to engage with their members and encourage debate. It might mean that strikes become less frequent but again, this may be advantageous to those unions who have lacked public support in their most recent outings. The less frequent the strikes the more significant the impact. Only time will reveal the consequences of such proposed legislation however it may be that these proposals are not as detrimental to workers as some would have you believe.

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