Belfast Telegraph

CBI call for new laws on strike action set to outrage unions

By James Moore

The CBI, Britain's biggest business lobby group, is set to outrage unions this morning with the release of a report demanding sweeping new curbs on the right to strike.

The report – Making Britain the Place to Work – calls for new laws on strike votes to force unions to secure the support of 40 per cent of a balloted workplace for strike action, in addition to a majority of those who actually vote.

Employers have long complained that ballots in favour of strikes that secure low turnouts are not truly legitimate. But the report's proposal would make it significantly harder for unions to secure the required support for action to be taken. The CBI will say: "Strikes damage economic growth and inconvenience the public. At a time of fragile recovery, strikes should require a higher bar of support."

The organisation will claim that its proposals are aimed at ensuring that Britain's labour market is "best placed" to sustain businesses and jobs during the recovery.

It will also call for a reduction in the consultation period for collective redundancies to 30 days from 90 days to "reduce uncertainty to staff" and enable employers to "reshape their workforces swiftly to respond to significant falls in demand".

And it will urge the Government to introduce a "sustainable employment test" to ensure future employment laws "help rather than hinder" the creation of new jobs. The CBI argues that Britain's flexible labour market has helped to minimise job losses during the downturn. Many forecasters had predicted that unemployment benefit claimants could hit a high of 3.5 million during the downturn but measures such as pay freezes, shorter time working and offering staff unpaid sabbaticals have helped to keep the figures much lower than had been feared.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director general, said: "As we enter a period of fragile recovery, we need to do everything we can to create a jobs market that works for Britain, and to ensure Britain is the place to work.

"To position the UK for growth, any new employment legislation must pass a simple test of whether it will encourage job creation. We also need to look at changing the rules around industrial action. Strikes cause misery. They prevent ordinary people going about their daily lives, whether it's getting to work or getting the kids to school. Strikes also cost the economy dearly and undermine our efforts to help rebuild the economy. That is why we believe the bar needs to be raised."

The CBI will also call for an extension to the right to request flexible working to all employees, while ensuring employers have enough time to adapt, a retention of the individual's opt-out from the maximum 48-hour working week under the EU's Working-Time Directive, and measures to make requesting flexible retirement more effective rather than abolishing the default retirement age.

The organisation also wants to work with ministers to introduce greater flexibility in the sharing of child caring responsibility between parents.

But the TUC has reacted with fury to the CBI proposals, saying they amount to a "demolition job on the rights at work of CBI members' staff and a charter for unscrupulous employers". The TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, also said the number of days lost to industrial action remains "historically low" and "less than in many other countries" despite the high profile given to recent disputes, notably the ongoing industrial strife at British Airways.

"The UK already has some of the toughest legal restrictions on the right to strike in the advanced world. The courts regularly strike down democratic ballots that clearly show majority support for action," he argued.

Mr Barber added: "Any further restrictions would be extremely unfair and almost certainly breach the UK's international human rights obligations. The new Government's commitments to civil liberties are welcome, but the CBI seems to think human rights stop at the workplace door.

"And while we would expect the CBI to lobby against rights at work, please spare us the hypocrisy of pretending that a cut in the period for consultation over redundancy is for the benefit of employees. A 30-day period does not provide unions – let alone staff unrepresented by unions – any real chance to develop alternatives or effectively negotiate changes."

Belfast Telegraph