From the TUC

CBI ‘backwoodsmen’ at it again

21 Jun 2010, By

The TUC has responded vigorously to the CBI’s calls for the law on industrial action ballots to be changed so that in effect unions could only strike if at least 40% of the balloted workforce voted positively for action.

As well as being an affront to basic democracy (as far as I’m aware there is no ‘turnout threshold’ in parliamentary or local council elections) this call is bizarre for a number of reasons.

Firstly there’s a question of timing – as I have written before Britain is a long way away from being held in the grip of a ‘Summer of Discontent’. The CBI and others like to talk up the threat posed by industrial action, but the reality is that industrial action is at a near historical low. Its not industrial action – or the threat of industrial action – that poses a clear threat to the nascent recovery, its the Government’s commitment to slash public sector spending at a time when private sector demand and investment is low. It should be noted that the CBI are amongst the biggest cheerleaders for a ‘slash and burn approach’ to public sector spending (along with tax-breaks  for high earners naturally).

Secondly, the sad reality is that far from being weighted in favour of unions, the current industrial action legislation invariably works against unions and their members. BA, Network Rail & Johnston Press are just some of the high-profile employers who’ve managed to use the law to undermine democratic industrial action ballots that clearly show majority support for action.

Thirdly, I just can’t help but think that the CBI is out of touch with its own members. How many CBI members would cite the law around industrial action ballots as the main challenge to their business at the present time?

And lastly, while its heartening to see the CBI worried about the democratic rights of employees, they really should be a little bit more consistent. At the same time as calling for the law on industrial action to be changed, they are also calling for the statutory notice period on redundancies to be cut from 90 to 30 days? Why, oh, so that staff need not be worried about ‘uncertainty’…

Far from being a real call for practical action for Making Britain the Place to Work’ the CBI have let ideology triumph over any serious practical assessment of the challenges facing UK businesses. Plus ça change…