Proposals for public service strike thresholds ‘not fit for purpose’

Government plans for ballot thresholds in public services and to let employers to hire agency staff during strike action are ‘not fit for purpose’, according to the independent body appointed to scrutinise such proposals. 

The Regulatory Policy Committee (RPC), appointed by the government in July, has said the government has not properly worked out the costs of the suggested changes to the law. 

A measure in the government’s proposed Trade Union Bill would mean any industrial action in the fire, health, education, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning sectors would have to be supported by at least 40% of all those entitled to vote. 

In addition, under a separate proposal, the government is introducing a requirement in all sectors that at least 50% of union members must participate in the vote, if strike action is to proceed legally. 

The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) estimated that the proposals would reduce the number of working days lost due to strike action by 65% in important public services covered by the sectors affected. 

However, the RPC considers the impact assessment of the proposal “does not explain” the rationale for them in a “straightforward” and “logical” way. 

The RPC’s also says the impact assessment “is not fit for purpose as it does not provide sufficient evidence of the likely impact of the proposals to support the consultation”. 

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, welcoming the rating, said: “The government’s Trade Union Bill threatens the basic right to strike – and it’s being rammed through with unseemly haste, without a proper case being made. 

“We’re pleased that the RPC has exposed the lack of consultation and the unfair imposition of excessive red tape on unions and employers. This is an opportunity for the government to take a step back, recognise that they were wrong, and drop these proposals which threaten the democratic right to strike.” 

The government had also proposed to revoke regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003, which prohibits companies providing temporary agency workers to employers facing industrial action. 

BIS estimated that 22% of 650,000 working days lost due to industrial action would be covered by agency workers. The Department added that the benefit in terms of additional output, after deducting the wage costs of agency workers, would be £12.5m each year – of which £2.9m is a benefit to private sector businesses. 

But the RPC considers that the case for the central assumption “has not been made” and that it is “not a robust basis for assessing the costs”, and, in particular, the benefits of this proposal. 

A spokesperson from BIS said: “Strikes can have a damaging impact on the lives of every working person and recent polling shows public support for our proposed actions. 

“We have made the best assessments of the available evidence. To build a broader evidence base we are consulting widely and welcome views. The final impact assessment will reflect these responses as well as the RPC’s concerns. We are also strengthening the role of the certification officer to ensure that there is high quality data in the future.” 

Additionally, more than 100 academics who specialise in industrial relations have criticised the proposals to the Trade Union Bill saying it will “feed into the labour market by increasing endemic low-pay and insecure terms and conditions of employment among non-unionised workers”. 

Professor Mark Stuart, president of the British Universities Industrial Relations Association, one of the letter’s signatories, said: “Instead of attacking trade unions in this way, the government should be looking more seriously at how to engage and involve the British workforce and its representatives in rebuilding the UK economy and raising productivity through fairer and more supportive rights for workers.” 

The RPC is chaired by Michael Gibbons CBE, a business representative who used to work in the energy sector, and it includes members who work for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Tata, as well as two economists and a City lawyer. In addition, there are members of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties represented, respectively.

(Image: c. Chris Radburn PA)


Brianc   24/08/2015 at 11:26

I would expect that the government would save money in the long run by allocating fair and equitable pay increases to those who work in essential services, rather than having to foot the bill incurred by strike action. When it comes to these services, the workers deserve to be treated fairly, rather than having to resort to industrial action to achieve a modest increase in remuneration.

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