Francis Maude warns of strike law reforms


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The case for reforming  strike laws will become "very pressing" if public sector workers push ahead with industrial action, ministers warned today.

Francis Maude said legislation was kept "under review" and indicated staging a mass walk-out at a time of economic turmoil would lead to a clampdown on trade unions.

The Cabinet Office Minister said the CBI had made a "powerful case" to government calling for a minimum 40% turnout on strike ballots before they are deemed legal.

He dismissed claims by union leaders that pension reforms were the most important issue for members in a generation saying it was "simply incorrect" as turnout had been "extraordinarily low".

"Members, for the most part, simply haven't voted in these ballots," he told BBC 1's Andrew Marr Show.

Asked about the possibility of introducing a minimum turnout rule, he added: "We keep these things under review. No law is set in stone forever but we think broadly the law works pretty well.

"We keep it under review but the CBI have made a powerful case for change, others have as well.

"I have made this point to the unions that if they do call out their members on strike at a time of huge fragility for our economy, where actually a widespread disruptive strike would cause immense damage to our economy with a lot of people losing their jobs - people who don't have access to pensions anywhere near as good as public sector workers will still have at the end of this - then actually the pace for reform of the ballot laws I think will become very pressing."

More than two million workers are now set to walk out on November 30 for a day of action co-ordinated by the TUC, which will disrupt schools, courts, government offices, jobcentres, driving tests, council services and hospitals.

A series of unions representing teachers, civil servants, NHS and council workers have balloted in favour of action, setting themselves on a collision course with the Government. They argue that the Government's pension reforms will leave them paying in more, working longer and receiving less when they retire.

Ministers insist that changes need to be made to public sector pensions to ensure they are sustainable for the future.

Mr Maude said union leaders had "jumped the gun" and acted "completely inappropriate and irresponsibly" by balloting for strike action while negotiations were still on-going.

He reiterated warnings that the current offer would be withdrawn if strikes go ahead.

"We have made clear this is a conditional offer," he added.

Lib Dem Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the Government was looking as strike laws.

He told Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News: He said: "Of course we have to look at those things (strike laws) and we are looking at those things.

"That is not the main response to these strikes. What we have to do is recognise, of course, that the strike action is going to do damage to public services, it is going to do damage to the economy too.

"That's one of the reasons why I think it is so irresponsible for trade unions to be going on strike in the middle of talks at this very difficult time in our economy."