The threat of trade unions preparing to plunge Britain into a period of 1970s-style industrial unrest with a spring general strike is causing many employers to look to the government for reformed strike laws. In particular, to ensure that strikes reflect the democratic will of the majority of their members, as opposed to the minority who actually vote.
A change in tone from the government last week suggests that such reform may happen, if the trade unions move ahead with coordinated strike action. Mr Cameron told MPs that he was happy to consider the arguments for such reform as he did “not want to see a wave of irresponsible strikes, not least when they are not supported by a majority of people taking part”. ”
Martin Warren, Human Resources Practice Group Head at international law firm Eversheds LLP commented: “While there is a rising threat of strikes this Spring, we are a far cry from a 1970’s general strike. The average annual number of days lost to strikes in the 1970’s was 12.9 million, compared to just 455,200 in 2009. It should also be remembered that changes in strike laws mean that a general strike against the government’s deficit reduction would be unlawful.
“It is because of this legal threat that the trade unions are currently reported to be planning the coordination of a number of local employer disputes to take place at the same time. This will challenge trade unions as it involves comprehensive organisation by a number of different trade unions involved in diverse disputes with their employers. While clearly disruptive to employers and the public, it is not a 1970’s general strike.