UK

Strike Laws: Unions Agree With Boris That They Should Be Changed

09/02/2014 16:55 GMT | Updated 09/02/2014 23:59 GMT
Fiona Hanson/PA Archive
General Secretary of the TSSA union, Gerry Docherty (centre) outside Wembley Park Station, as commuters faced a struggle to get to work today as the latest Tube strike hit the capital.

Britain's union leaders agree with Boris Johnson that strike laws need to change - but not in quite the same way.

The RMT union, which was behind last week's tube strikes that caused travel chaos in London, told HuffPost UK it wanted the current laws on balloting to be repealed, claiming they "shackle the working class".

Other unions said the "complex and restrictive" laws needed to be changed, calling for electronic voting to be allowed.

And an employment lawyer said Britain was already failing to comply with international requirements to protect the right to strike.

After the two-day strike last week, and with a second one looming, Johnson has called for the rules to be tightened with new minimum laws for turnouts.

Other Tories seem to agree, and tough new measures are expected in their next election manifesto.

Speaking on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday morning, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles agreed there was "merit" in the suggestions, but said it would not be passed by the current House of Commons.

But Richard Arthur, head of trade union law for Thompsons Solicitors, said Britain was already failing to comply with international requirements to protect strikers.

"Numerous international legal instruments to which the United Kingdom is a signatory provide expressly, or by implication, for the protection of the right to strike to a higher standard than is the case in the UK," he said.

Countries like France and Spain have the right to strike enshrined in their constitutions.

Arthur also warned of a "pressure cooker effect":

"If workers aren't able to take industrial action, their sense of outrage just boils up," he said.

Asked what changes it would make to the current laws, an RMT Union spokesman said :"Britain already has a raft of anti-union laws brought in by the Thatcher Government designed to shackle the working class. We want those laws repealed."

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said she would introduce electronic balloting, which would increase turnout in ballots.

"There is no case for raising the threshold required to get a yes vote in a strike ballot, a simple majority should suffice", she added.

Richard Simcox, of the PCS union, said calling a strike was already "incredibly bureaucratic, time-consuming and expensive", and joined calls for electronic voting.

"We're the ones that are called dinosaurs on this, but actually we have got forward-thinking ideas," he added.