The Trade Unions Bill that will be debated today is crucial to make sure that strike laws are fairer for working people in this country.
Trade unions do good things in representing their members' interests but this must be balanced with the rights of working people and businesses. They have a right to expect that services are not going to be disrupted at short notice by strikes which have the support of only a small proportion of union members.
It is wholly wrong that politicised union leaders can hold the country to ransom with demands that only a small percentage of their members voted for; causing misery for millions of people and harming our economy too. They have no mandate for these actions, and it is right that we put a stop to this.
Last year's NHS strikes led to cancelled operations and appointments for patients across the country. When teaching unions go on strike, parents have to find childcare or take leave. Recent transport strikes mean many people find it impossible to get to work on time – or have to pay a fortune to do so. And when our fire service, or the Border Force go on strike, the safety of all of us is put at risk.
So this Bill will introduce a 50 per cent threshold for ballot turn-out, and an additional threshold of 40 per cent for support to take part in industrial action in public sectors such as fire, health, education, and transport. These changes will ensure strikes are the result of a clear and positive democratic mandate from union members.
Unions must be more transparent in their aims. There will now be a requirement that ballot papers include the details of the dispute, what type of industrial action is proposed, and the time period for the action to take place. This will allow union members to make informed decisions about what they are voting for or against.
The Bill will also change the process called 'check off'. This is when public sector workers who are union members have their subscriptions taken directly from their salary. This was a practice introduced at a time when many people didn't have bank accounts. In the 21st century era of digital payments, public resources should not be used to support the collection of trade union subscriptions. The move gives the employee greater control over their subscription, allowing them to set up their own direct debit with their chosen trade union. It gives employees more rights, choosing where their money goes and taking the decision away from union bosses.
Another important change is to help those workers who decide not to strike. In the past non-strikers have been subject to abuse and intimidation from more militant workers which is simply unacceptable. The Government will make the key provisions of the Picketing Code legally binding. Trade unions will be made more accountable for the conduct on picket lines to tackle this problem.
These changes are fair, robust and represent a positive change for hard working Britons. This was a key manifesto commitment and I fully support the Bill.