The Business Secretary Vince Cable has warned that excessive strikes could lead the government to table legislation to tighten what are already seen as tough industrial action laws.
After warnings from the GMB that there was the potential for 750,000 striking workers on 30th of June GMB general secretary Paul Kenny told the BBC that he was disappointed that Mr Cable was going to attack the unions, having been invited to talk about jobs.
“I don’t think that any strike in this country could inflict the sort of economic damage on our country that the banks and finance houses and frankly current government policy have done,” he said.
“It’s funny how ministers encourage strikes in Egypt and places like that, but they want to ban them in Britain,” he added.
At the conference in Brighton, Mr Cable said: “We are undoubtedly entering a difficult period. Cool heads will be required all round. Despite occasional blips, I know that strike levels remain historically low, especially in the private sector. On that basis and assuming this pattern continues, the case for changing strike law is not compelling.”
Mr Cable said that he knew emotions were running high in the different unions. However, he called for both the government and the unions to collaborate when dealing with the economic challenges faced by the country.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and the CBI have already called for tougher trade union laws, including a longer period of time for employers to be notified ahead of strike action. Mr Johnson said that he wants laws to block strike action unless at least 50% of the union members in a workplace take part in a ballot. He has criticised the government as being “lily-livered” for not taking firmer action. As well as this, the CBI has called for a minimum of 40% of union members balloted to be in favour of a strike before it can take place.
Some 250,000 civil servants in the PCS union are being balloted at the moment on whether to take strike action over government spending cuts. Any PCS action could lead to co-ordinated walkouts, with 750,000 teachers, lecturers and other workers taking part in the largest joint-union walkout in years.
See this month’s edition of The Manufacturer for a detailed analysis of Industrial Action and how to avoid it