Joseph Baum has put forward an argument for reforming strike laws on the CPS blog within the context of the proposed Trade Union Bill. The bill aims to reduce the number of strikes by introducing a minimum participation threshold of 50% and in some important public services an additional minimum approval threshold of 40%. As the Government’s Impact Assessment shows, this will not only have a direct impact on output and productivity, but will reduce the adverse effect of strikes on the general economy.
Whilst the law may come at a £0.5 million one-off cost to total trade union budgets, this is fairly negligible compared to the annual savings of £13.7 million it will bring due to direct output increases in key sectors (transport and storage, education, health and social work and the border force.) It has been estimated in the last five years that on average over half a million working days are lost in the whole of the public sector due to strikes, with 245,380 lost working days being from the education sector reflecting the exceptionally high loss of output during strikes. Furthermore, it has been calculated that the number of lost working days could be reduced by 65% by introducing the new minimum threshold which highlights the clear economic benefit this law may have. Within the health and social work sector, 278,502 working hours would be saved on an annual basis by the strike laws therefore reducing disruption to vital health care services.
Public sector strike action is often a cause for complaint by many; from the busy commuter to the working parent who has to take time off work to look after their child when school gates are closed. Transport and education are noted to have the largest negative indirect effects on the economy as a result of disruption and accrued costs of wasted productive hours. A 2007 Acas report estimated that a two-day transport strike would cost other businesses £52 million and a Workplace Employment Relations Survey in 2011 found that within a 12-month period, 22,500 businesses were disrupted by strikes of another workplace. Whilst it is near impossible to calculate exactly the total indirect benefit of reduced strike action, costs to businesses are high and it is absolutely clear that fewer strikes will have large benefits to both communities and businesses resulting in a positive economic effect on productivity and output.
A consultation is expected to take place to consider the new law and determine which occupations will be subject to these new thresholds. Whilst the new minimum threshold may encourage trade unions to be more aggressive in advocating a potential strike to members, this effect is likely to be countered as members who fail to vote will effectively be balloted as opposing the vote. This law is a driver for increased economic efficiency within key public sector areas. Perhaps as importantly, it is a key milestone in ensuring that strike action is only taken as a last resort when other trade negotiations have failed.