Conservatives may declare war on unions
with new strike rules

Plan would make strikes illegal unless at least 50 per cent of union members voted in a ballot

Trade unions could face fresh curbs on their ability to call strikes under plans being considered by the Conservatives.

Right-wing Tory ministers are pressing David Cameron to include the proposals in the party’s next general election manifesto, The Independent understands. The planned legislation would make industrial action illegal unless at least 50 per cent of union members take part in a strike ballot.

Supporters of the threshold – who insist the potential policy is “under active discussion” in Downing Street – believe the plan would prove highly popular with the voters.

But the proposal has divided opinion around the Cabinet table, with the Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, understood to be among the leading opponents.

Ministers are also examining new steps to crack down on the Public and Commercial Services union, representing civil servants and local government staff, which is regarded as the most militant in Britain.

The introduction of a threshold has been championed by Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, following clashes with transport unions in the capital. Mr Cameron has been careful to avoid ruling the idea out, although has stressed he had no plans to press ahead with the move.

It had been thought the proposal had been on ice in recent months, but a senior minister told the Independent the policy was being seriously considered within Downing Street.

“It is certainly under active discussion – some people are pushing it quite hard. It would be a popular thing to do – people get outraged about small numbers of people walking out and holding them to ransom,” he said.

There is no prospect of any new trade union legislation while the Coalition is in office – Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, has said publicly that he would oppose it. Mr McLoughlin, a former trade unionist, has also argued in private against the move. His opposition has proved important because, as Transport Secretary, he is in the forefront of dealing with industrial disputes.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, who deals with public sector unions, is also believed to be sceptical about the wisdom of the threshold idea. A colleague said: “I don’t think he lies awake at night worrying about the unions.”

But Tory sources confirmed the issue is being discussed as a possible commitment in the party’s next manifesto. One of the attractions of the policy for supporters would be to put pressure on Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, to state whether supported the move and cast a spotlight on his party’s union links.

George Osborne, the Chancellor, and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, are understood to be sympathetic to the introduction of a threshold, although neither has spoken publicly on the issue recently.

Other suggestions are altering the law to allow agency workers to cover for staff who are on strike and increasing the notice period unions have to give to employers before industrial action begins.

Trade union legislation has remained largely unchanged since the 1980s, when the Thatcher Government outlawed the closed shop in the workplace, introduced secret ballots for strikes and banned secondary picketing.

Since then the Conservatives have been reluctant to return to the subject for fear of antagonising the unions. The issue went up the political agenda in 2011 when there were two major union walkouts in protest over cuts to public sector pensions and still being considered by senior Tories.

Government sources say they have established a constructive relationship with the TUC and, despite ideological differences, with Britain’s largest union, Unite.

However, they signalled that the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has 270,000 members, could be in their sights.

Scrapping the arrangement where membership subs are paid direct through the Whitehall payroll is being considered, as well as limiting the amount of time that union representatives are allowed to have off for union business.

Power politics: the Tories and the unions

1972: Miners rock Edward Heath’s administration as they walk out in their first national strike for nearly 50 years.

1979: Margaret Thatcher elected Prime Minister after the “winter of discontent” contributes to the demise of James Callaghan’s Labour government.

1981: Tories back off from pit closure plans in face of threatened miners’ strike.

1980-84: Succession of  Employment Acts outlawing secondary action and requiring  pre-strike ballots.

1985: Year-long strike ends in defeat for the miners after Thatcher government builds up coal stocks.

1990: Employment Act effectively outlaws the closed shop.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teacher

£130 - £131 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Ks1 teacher required for m...

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

MI Analyst and SQL Developer (SQL, SSAS, SSRS)

£28000 - £32500 Per Annum + 28 days holiday, pension, discounts and more: Clea...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?