It has been hard to miss the much-publicised dispute between London Underground (LUL) and the RMT Union, Unite and TSSA over rates of pay and terms and conditions regarding the introduction of a night service at weekends on many central London underground lines.
LUL have promised that staff will not be required to work longer hours or additional shifts and that after a transitional period of one year they will be entitled to choose whether they wish to work night shifts. They have, in addition, made increasing pay concessions and offered to make a one-off bonus payment to all staff affected. However, it seems that the parties have still been unable to meet a satisfactory middle ground.
Whilst industrial action is usually a last resort, in recent years there has been a significant trend in Unions resorting to industrial action as an attempt to elicit a reasonable compromise in circumstances where it is perceived that employers have imposed change quickly and without consultation. Round table discussion and targeted constructive talks between the parties are often the most effective way of resolving a dispute; however, once strike action is taken it then becomes very difficult for the parties to continue to negotiate to reach a compromise.
In the recent election, the Conservative Government promised to introduce measures to prevent what they perceived to be ’disruptive and undemocratic‘ strike action and they have now published the Trade Union Bill setting out their proposed reforms in this area.
The key changes that the government are proposing to introduce are:
- A new requirement that at least 50% of eligible members must take part in any vote for strike action (with a majority of those who vote voting in favour for strike action to be lawful)
- A higher threshold that at least 40% of all eligible members must vote in favour of strike action where strike action affects ’important public services‘ such as health, transport, schools, fire and border security for such a strike to be lawful
- An expiry date for all strike ballots, after which a new ballot must be taken for further strike action to be lawful
- An increase in the amount of notice which must be given to an employer to 14 days’ notice
- The right for employers to utilise agency staff to provide cover for striking union members
- An obligation on Unions to supervise picketing for picketing to be lawful
It is the Conservative Government’s hope that this will reduce the trend to opt for industrial action in circumstances where talks between the parties may still be an effective avenue to pursue.
Something, we can imagine, many commuters would welcome!