Tough new laws to restrict strikes in essential services will be promised in next year’s Conservative general election manifesto, David Cameron announced today.
He was speaking ahead of tomorrow’s industrial action by members of the National Union of Teachers in protest over pay and pensions. They will be joined by council workers, health workers, firefighters and civil servants demonstrating against austerity measures in the public sector.
The Prime Minister said the “time had come” for the introduction of a threshold in number of union members who need to take part in a strike ballot for it to be legal.
He also said the Tory manifesto could back the introduction of a time limit on how long a vote in favour of industrial action would remain valid.
Mr Cameron told MPs: “I don’t think these strikes are right... I think people should turn up for work.
“I think the time has come for looking at setting thresholds in strike ballots... The [NUT] strike ballot took place in 2012, based on a 27 per cent turnout.
“How can it possibly be right for our children’s education to be disrupted by trade unions acting in that way? It is time to legislate and it will be in the Conservative manifesto.”
The threshold policy has been championed by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who has suggested strike ballots should require a turnout of at least 50 per cent to be legitimate. His stance follows a series of walk-outs on the London Underground.
Supporters of the move say similar policies exist in several other western nations, but critics say many politicians fail to achieve election on 50 per cent turnouts.
A Downing Street source said a “range of options” was being considered by the Tory Party.
He confirmed they included thresholds, as well as time-limiting of ballots, but refused to go into any more detail.
Labour accused the Prime Minister of inflaming the situation, rather than trying to find a solution.
A party spokesman said: “We think strikes are a sign of failure. We don’t want these strikes to go ahead, but the Government should be getting round the table, not ramping up the rhetoric.
“There is a frame, which the Conservatives want to use, of blaming low-paid workers and blaming teachers for these strikes.
“The truth is that the low-paid workers have had £250 promised to them then taken away by George Osborne and teachers have been abused and denigrated by Michael Gove.
“The way to resolve these strikes is to stop ramping up the rhetoric and sort things out.”
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