Britain does not have a strike problem – so why the need for new legislation? The government should be working constructively with unions to raise productivity
Neither the coalition, nor the previous Labour government, saw any need to revisit strike legislation. So, what has changed?
Strikes, when they happen, are not always popular. The public, and business, face disruption. Strikers themselves lose pay. But the right to withdraw labour as a last resort in industrial disputes is fundamental to free societies, as the European Convention on Human Rights recognises.
Moreover, it is far from obvious that Britain has a “strike problem”. There have been periods in 20th-century history of intense industrial strife. But in the 1990s and 2000s strikes accounted for well under a million days a year. The trend continued under the coalition, despite strong disagreements over pay, pensions and redundancies. The 6.5 million British people who belong to a union – just over a quarter of the labour force and over half of public sector workers – withdrew their labour, on average, for one day in 15 years. By any standards, historically or in comparison with other democratic countries, Britain is remarkably strike-free.