The Evening Standard reports on Conservative plans to restrict trade union power. They cover reducing taxpayer subsidies to the trade unions and preventing strikes unless at least 40 per cent of members have taken part in the ballot approving it.

The paper says:

The plans, for a post-2015 Conservative government, will be signalled by chairman Grant Shapps when he accuses Labour leader Ed Miliband of caving in to union pressure to drop reform.

It details the plans as follows:

  • Requiring unions to be charged a full commercial rent for using public buildings and facilities.
  • Ending the right to free time off for trade union duties, including for “pilgrims” who work as full-time union officials at the taxpayers’ expense.
  • Banning “check-off” of fees from salaries, which some public sector unions use to maintain membership.
  • Increasing the threshold before a union can apply for statutory recognition from 10 per cent of a workforce to 30 per cent.
  • Insisting that strike ballots do not count unless at least 40 per cent of members vote for it.
  • Axing taxpayer funding of the Union Learning Fund, currently £15.5 million, which pays for union officials to be trained.

Despite the “post-2015” reference it would surely be disappointing if the Lib Dems were able to block any further progress on these areas. Should they do so they would be out of line not only with their own supporters – and potential supporters – not only with public opinion generally. To take the example of strike ballots the Conservative MP Dominic Raab has suggested going rather further with a 50 per cent threshold. Just over a year there was a poll done on this by YouGov for the Sunday Times which asked:

Some people have suggested that the law should be changed so that a union can only go on strike if over 50% of its members back the strike, rather than 50% of those voting. Would you support or oppose this change?

There 63 per cent support with 21 per cent against. Even Labour supporters were narrowly in favour. Among Lib Dems support was by 69 per cent to 12 per cent – so even higher. Among those who were Lib Dems supporters in 2010 it was backed by 63 – 21, exactly in line with the national average.

At present union militants have an incentive to keep the turnout low as that makes it easier for them to get a strike called. Are the Lib Dems really so determined to allow this arrangement to continue?

When it comes to the taxpayer picking up the cost of salaries for union officials another YouGov poll – his time for the Taxpayers Alliance – asked: “Would you support or oppose the following cuts to public spending?” Among the items on the list was “stopping the practice of paying full-time trade union organisers in large public sector organisations.” This was supported by 51 per cent to 26 per cent – among Lib Dems it was slightly higher at 54 per cent to 26 per cent.

Again it is most odd that the Lib Dems are evidently seeking to block in Government such a reasonable reform so strongly supported by Lib Dem voters. But it just shows that to tackle trade union power the wishes of Lib Dem voters can only be realised by a majority Conservative Government.

51 comments for: New laws planned to cut strikes and union subsidies – but will the Lib Dems block them?

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