NEW trade union laws designed to make it harder to go on strike have been branded “Dickensian” by the SNP.
Under the UK government’s proposals, a turnout of at least 50 per cent of members will be needed to authorise action. And in key public services - such as health, education, fire, transport, border security and energy - there will be an additional hurdle that a strike must be endorsed by 40 per cent of those entitled to vote.
Unions will have to give employers 14 days’ notice of strike action and companies will be allowed to bring in agency staff to cover for striking workers.
Livingston MP Hannah Bardell, the SNP’s fair work and employment spokeswoman, said the new laws were more suited to the 19th century than the 21st.
She said: “The Tory government seems determined to take the UK back in time with their Dickensian policies.
“Trade unions are key social partners and play an important role in our society.”
And she noted that if the 40 per cent rule had applied at the general election, the Tories would not be in government.
UK Business Secretary Sajid Javid said the government was delivering a “key commitment” from the Tory manifesto.
He said: “These changes are being introduced so that strikes only happen when a clear majority of those entitled to vote have done so and all other possibilities have been explored.”
But unions said the new laws were an attack on workers’ rights and would make getting a pay rise or defending terms and conditions much harder.
STUC general secretary Grahame Smith pledged the unions would campaign vigorously against the “vindictive, unfair and unnecessary” bill.
He said: “This bill starts from the false premise that unions are bad and their activities need to be curtailed.
“It also starts from the false premise that we have a strike problem. We do not. Last year there were only 151 strikes. Less than two per cent of workers participated in a strike.”
He said the bill had nothing to do with democracy or participation, but was about shifting the balance in industrial relations even more in favour of employers.
“It will create a toxic industrial relations atmosphere, particularly as employers are now to be given the green light to employ strike-breakers, creating unnecessary conflict.”
Scottish Labour MSP Siobhan McMahon, the party’s spokeswoman on youth and women’s employment, said the bill did nothing to address Britain’s productivity gap and skills shortages.
“Instead the bill tries to drive a false wedge between government, industry, employees and the public by restricting rights – and at worst criminalising ordinary working people, from midwives to factory workers – to challenge low-pay or health and safety concerns.”