THE Conservatives will legislate to make it more difficult for unions to call strikes in key public services if they win this year’s election.
Industrial action in the health, education, transport and fire services would require the support of at least 40 per cent of all those entitled to take part in strike ballots – as well as a majority of those who actually turn out to vote.
A source said this would prevent strikes going ahead on the basis of majorities in ballots in which only a small proportion of the unionised workforce has participated.
Last night the move was denounced as a “democratic outrage” by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which said it would effectively end the right to strike in the public sector at a time when Conservatives are planning pay restraint and large-scale job cuts.
GMB general secretary Paul Kenny pointed out that Conservatives failed to secure 40 per cent support of those who voted in the 2010 general election, while only 15 Tory MPs had the backing of 40 per cent of those entitled to vote in their constituencies.
Under proposals to be included in the Conservative manifesto for the 6 May election, Tories also pledged to end the ban on the use of agency staff to cover for striking workers, and promised a review on the possible introduction of minimum service levels to ensure that core services remain available during strikes.
Unveiling the plans, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said legislation would be passed in the first year of the next parliament if Conservatives secure a majority and would stop “politicised union leaders” from “holding the country to ransom” with the backing of only a small proportion of their members.
Measures previously announced by Conservatives would impose a 50 per cent minimum turnout threshold for all strike ballots, end “rolling mandates” so that strikes cannot be called on the basis of ballots conducted years before, and reform picketing rules to protect staff who want to go in to work.
Nearly three-quarters (86) of 119 significant ballots for industrial action conducted between August 2010 and December 2014 would have been invalid under the proposed thresholds, including last year’s London Underground strike, which fewer than one third of eligible RMT members voted for, said Conservatives.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Conservatives know that this threshold will effectively end the right to strike in the public sector.
“No democracy elsewhere in the world has this kind of restriction on industrial action.
“It is a democratic outrage, especially as the Conservatives have opposed allowing secure and secret online balloting – the one measure guaranteed to increase turnouts.”