Old Etonian Cameron says the Tories are the new party of Britain’s working people, as he seeks to shrug off the Conservatives’ ‘party of the rich’ image. TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "This is a Government not so much on the side of hard-working people but Britain's worst bosses - those who want their staff to be on zero-hours contracts, poverty pay and unable to effectively organise in a union so that they can do something about it.
Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary last week is the Thatcherite free-marketeer son of a bus driver and ex-comprehensive school, carries the torch for the Conservatives' reputation for being the pro-business party for the new meritocracy. His remit is to sweep away any obstacles to wealth creation by bearing down on red tape, reviewing employment legislation and by making it harder for workers to strike. Javid has barely been appointed before announcing that any strike affecting public services, such as health, transport, fire services or schools will need to be backed by 40% of eligible union members, and that minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots. Javid's plans to repeal restrictions on using temporary staff to cover for striking workers - "scab labour" to break strikes.
One of those keenest to implement Osborne’s £12 billion cuts is Iain Duncan Smith, who has already embarked upon a programme of welfare and benefits cuts. He is now expected to push the annual benefits cap further down from £26,000 to £23,000, to expand the scope of the bedroom tax, to trim maternity pay and remove financial support for all but the poorest carers.
Frances Brady, the General Secretary of the TUC writes about the Tory’s proposed anti-union laws:
“What the proposals are really about is stopping opposition to the Conservatives’ plans to cut hundreds of thousands of public-sector jobs over this parliament.
Unions are too often the last line of defence on these issues, and the government wants to make it more difficult for ordinary people, firefighters, nurses, midwives, and teachers to express their democratic wishes and to take industrial action in defence of their jobs and pay…
…As well as increasing ballot thresholds, the Conservatives have announced that they will lift the ban on employers using agency staff during strikes — a deliberate attempt to break those strikes that do take place…
…The Conservatives are proposing that if a seventh person joins a peaceful and good-natured picket line, all seven could be prosecuted and given a criminal record….
…New specific technology offences will mean strikers will face tougher legal restrictions on Twitter than other people. This will open up union activists to enhanced surveillance as potential criminals.”
STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith said earlier this month:
"If the Tory anti-union proposals come to pass they will be resisted. Trade union leaders, even if they talk about the prospect of breaking bad laws, are condemned by the right-wing press. I have no concern at all about being condemned by the right-wing press."
The International Labour Organisation has already berated the UK on its balloting requirements for, among other things, having ‘laws on industrial action ballots and notices which are too complicated and rigid’. On restricting the right to strike in essential services, the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association has repeatedly stated that such action can only be permissible where the interruption of those services would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the population. To that effect, the Committee has explicitly held that transport and education do not constitute essential services for the purposes of industrial action. Furthermore, the hiring of workers to break a strike in a sector which cannot be regarded as an essential sector in the strict sense of the term has been regarded by the Committee as a serious violation of freedom of association.
The government’s plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, is also relevant in this discussion. Following a 2008 decision, the European Court of Human Rights held, among other things, that deference should be given to the above-cited ILO jurisprudence and other international legal instruments when determining the rights covered in Article 11 (Freedom of Association) of the Convention.
With the new British Bill of Rights set to ‘break the formal link between British Courts and the European Court of Human Rights’, it is likely that individuals wanting to bring cases under the ECHR will have to go all the way to Strasbourg to do so. Even though the European Court of Human Rights recently sided with the government on a specific strike restriction, the denial of access to Convention rights locally is simply a further denial of justice.
RMT union members voted by 80 per cent for strike action and by 92 per cent for action short of a strike. The turnout was 60 per cent - exceeding the new minimum floor of 50 per cent the government wants to introduce. Mike Cash, General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) said:
"It was on the cards that this government, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the idle rich and the bad bosses, would move quickly to tighten the noose of the anti-union laws around the workers' necks at the earliest opportunity. These proposed new laws would mean one form of democracy for the greedy political class and another for the organised working-class. The trade unions will unite to fight these attacks."