Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Clause 3 - Ballots: 40% support requirement in important public services

Part of Trade Union Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 20th October 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education) 3:00 pm, 20th October 2015

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. The amendments strike at the very heart of the Government’s objective in introducing a 40% threshold for strikes in important public services. I remind the Committee why we are introducing this measure. Nowhere is the impact of strike action more severe than when it takes place in important public services. The reason for  that, and it is a thread that runs through all of the sectors listed as important public services, is that broadly—I accept it is not the case in every single detail—each of those services, as public services, operates as a monopoly in the lives of those who rely on it as users. That is not to say that, in time, people cannot put their children into a different school, secure an appointment with a consultant in a hospital trust outside the area in which they live, or find other ways to make the journey that they do every single morning and evening to and from work. It does mean, however, that when strikes happen, it is impossible for the vast majority of the British public who rely on those services to secure that alternative provision within public services. It goes without saying that the Border Force is itself a public monopoly—quite rightly so—and although nuclear decommissioning may involve contractors, thankfully we do not have competing nuclear commissioning regimes.

Where people and businesses rely on the services every day and where they have no choice of an alternative service provider, we believe that those services represent the important service sectors where the additional requirement of the 40% threshold is justified. That threshold ensures that strikes affecting services in those sectors can go ahead only when a reasonable level of support has been secured by the trade union. We are not banning strikes; the legislation is about making sure that enough members support the proposed action before it can go ahead.

The six sectors set out in the Bill as being subject to the 40% threshold have been chosen precisely because they are those where strike action has the potential to have the most far-reaching consequences for a significant number of people. Opposition Members discussed the difference between important services versus essential services. They are right that the ILO defines “essential services” and that that is an accepted definition, but it does so for the purposes of making it clear that it is therefore allowable to prohibit the right to strike in those services. The right to strike can be entirely prohibited in the sectors that the ILO has deemed to be essential, which include some but not all of the same sectors that we have listed—for example, firefighting services, the hospital sector, air traffic control, public or private prison services, electricity services, water supply services and telephone services.