Reforming the Right to Strike in the Digital Age

On 10 July over 1 million public sector workers went on strike across the UK. Almost immediately and inevitably debate polarised between those who see the right to strike as a fundamental freedom and those who see strikes as an inconvenience that must be restricted by legislation. One of the loudest voices from the latter camp was the Prime Minister, David Cameron. Saying that that he didn’t “think these strikes are right” and that  “people should turn up for work” the time had “now 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 stated that the next Tory Government could bring in a time limit on how long a vote in favour of industrial action would remain valid. To many on the right of politics these changes will prove to be both popular and effective in stopping strikes. 

Leaving aside the fact that the vast majority of MP’s, MEP’s and councillors are elected on a minority of the vote, the UK already has some of the most restrictive industrial action law in the democratic world. It is difficult to believe that the changes being called for would not be struck down by the European Court of Human Rights as a disproportionate infringement on the Freedom to Associate guaranteed by Article 12 of the Convention. On top of the existing and onerous balloting requirements, a majority requirement for industrial action, would likely result in industrial action occurring even less frequently than it does no.

If you really want to modernise the right to call for industrial action, it is time to allow for electronic balloting. It an anachronism that in the digital age, Trade Unions are required to organise ballots as if they were operating in the 1970’s. If legislation was introduced that would allow for proper e balloting then it is likely that David Cameron’s call for more members of trade unions backing industrial action would be met. This would be without the need for legislation that would in all probability be declared unlawful as an affront to a fundamental freedom, namely the right to withdraw ones labour