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Industrial Relations – Part Deux

By Leslie Clark
June 17th, 2011 at 1:09 pm | 1 Comment | Posted in coalition, Industrial Relations

My last contribution on industrial relations law didn’t go down well in some quarters. C’est la vie.

However, it couldn’t escape my notice that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander had some pretty strong words for the trade unions and the inescapable nature of public sector pension reform today. Although he did not call for minimum turnouts for strike ballots, a few snippets of an article he penned for a newspaper ahead of his key speech to the IPPR are worth highlighting:

It is unjustifiable that the taxpayer should work longer and pay more tax so that public sector workers can retire earlier and get more than them…There is an indisputable case for reforming public sector pensions. They must be affordable, not just now but in the decades to come; and reform must be sustainable and correct the huge unfairness on the taxpayer and on low-earning public sector workers…

But particularly relevant to what I said yesterday:

It is disappointing that a minority of unions seem hell-bent on premature strike action…They are misrepresenting the Government’s position and feeding their members scare stories…

A strike now might be in the interests of the union’s boss, but it is not in the interests of its members. Only one in five members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union voted on Wednesday for strike action – the vast majority realise that such a step is unjustifiable. My message is: don’t let the union bosses sacrifice your pension for their political ends.”

I welcomed Alexander’s resoluteness in seeing reform through, painful as it may be, especially in light of some of the Coalition’s recent U-turns on policy. Whilst the calls for retreat are likely to grow even louder, change is desperately needed and it is in the long-term national interest to see things through.

Reading his piece, I was reminded of what Hal Varian, the Chief Economist at Google, said a few months ago on a similar issue, “Unions have the same problem that democratic governments have: they have a tendency to sacrifice the well-being of future generations relative to current generations, since only the current generation is able to vote.”

Let’s just hope that Alexander lives up to his words. Luckily, I believe he is imbued with the same qualities as Scotland’s other national drink – he’s made in Scotland from girders.

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Modernising industrial relations law is a necessity

By Leslie Clark
June 15th, 2011 at 7:33 pm | 10 Comments | Posted in coalition, Industrial Relations

Today was the day that we learnt that up to three quarters of a million public sector workers have agreed to take coordinated strike action over government changes to pensions.

They really ought to have listened to Vince. Earlier this month, the wise old Business Secretary warned delegates at the GMB conference that whilst the case for changing strike laws was not currently persuasive, “should the position change, and should strikes impose serious damage to our economic and social fabric, the pressure on us to act would ratchet up.”

Despite the recent results of Mugabesque proportions that were widely interpreted as an endorsement of anger against the Coalition, a closer look at the results makes some interesting reading:

  • 92% of NUT members backed industrial action against proposed pension changes…but on a 40% turnout
  • Likewise, 83% of ATL members voted for action…but on a 35% turnout
  • The PCS also endorsed strike action…but on a turnout of 32%

It seems somewhat strange that if so many workers are incensed with the government’s proposals that so few of them bothered to vote. Under such circumstances, one can see the compelling logic of the case for introducing a minimum turnout clause for a vote prior to strike action. In their report Keeping the Wheels Turning, the CBI has already suggested that the bar be set at around 40% in order to make the strike legal. Such a change would make it unlikely that any of the aforementioned ballots (apart from that of the NUT) would be officially permitted.

It goes without saying that introducing a minimum turnout wouldn’t drastically curb the fundamental right to withdraw one’s labour. Indeed, if there is overwhelming support for action, such as was the case with British Airways workers last year, industrial action would still take place regardless of any threshold in place. All that such a measure would do would be to prevent a minority of trade unionists imposing their will over their fellow members and wider society.

Should we not also recognise the ‘right’ of individuals not to have their daily lives interrupted due to the activities of a vociferous minority of trade unionists?