By Tim Montgomerie
This morning's papers, at the start of the TUC Conference, are full of threats of strike action and civil disobedience from Britain's trade union leaders (see BBC and Guardian). Mark Serwotka of the Public and Commercial Services Union wins the award for Chief Deficit Denier. He warned George Osborne that “not a single public sector job” nor one penny of spending should be cut.
On this morning's Today programme Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude fought back. He said that six-in-ten Britons voted for the two parties that make up the Coalition and both parties had promised to fix the deficit. The unions should remember that, he warned.
With union militancy growing Mr Maude and his ministerial colleagues would be wise to examine a timely report from Policy Exchange on "modernising industrial relations".
The report identifies four major problems in current union-government relations:
- "A strike can go ahead with complete legal legitimacy with only a small minority of the trade union members – and an extreme minority of the actual labour force – voting in favour of it. In one recent case, only 31% of unionised staff actually voted to reject British Airway’s pay offer.
- Monopoly conditions exist for unions (vs workers) in many workplaces. Workers usually have no choice over the union they want to join.
- Union membership and strike action is heavily concentrated in the public sector.
- Taxpayer funding of unions is extensive – and often hidden. Direct payments to trade unions of at least £78.5 million have been made since 1998."
The report, co-authored by Andrew Lilico, PX's Chief Economist, and Ed Holmes makes a number of recommendations including:
- Ballot papers for indiustrial action should contain more information concerning the nature, frequency and length of industrial action to be authorised, including identifying a specific grievance. At present it need not do so.
- Require that a majority of employees in the balloted workplace vote, and/or require that a minimum of 40% of the trade unionised workforce vote in favour of strike action, in addition to a majority of the votes cast. This would avoid strikes based on very low percentage turnouts when only very small numbers of workers are members of a union.
Employers should be permitted to use agency staff to carry out the duties which striking employees would otherwise have performed. This would undo restrictions introduced in 2004.
- The Government should remove various forms of taxpayer funding for Trade Unions.
- Members should be given “opt-in” choices regarding political donations. Instead of opt-out arrangements which default members into making political donations, donations to parties should only be made for members who choose to opt-in.
The report contains this interesting graph on how the unions have become a public sector phenomenon in recent years: