Now industrial action is the preserve of the trade unions and the public sector. We see or hear about unions balloting their members on industrial action ever few months, if it’s not the teachers it’s the postmen or the fuel tanker drivers or the tube drivers. Now its normally over them wanting a pay rise or something to do with their pensions or working hours.
However gone are the days when unscrupulous employers sent teenage boys down the mines for 14 hours at a time to extract coal. We have a whole raft of legislation both domestic and European that protects the rights of the work, and limits the hours they can work and regulates when they have to have rest breaks and how long they have to have off between shifts.
So pray tell well what are they after? Well in most cases they are normally after more money or they want to work less time for the same amount of money. Which if you think about it, it really isn’t that fair on those in the private sector. Whose employees can’t down tools for the day because they want a few more hundred pounds in their pay packet at the end of the month or because they want to work 35 hours a week not 39.
Now I would have a little bit of sympathy for these people going on strike if the statistics actually backed up their arguments. Yet however the office for national statistics regularly does a comparison between public and private sector wages and every time it always shows that the wages are normally a lot better in favour of the public sector. This time it was 7% advantage money wise working in the public sector over the private sector.
Yet these workers keep going on strike because they think they are underpaid and want more money. I’m sorry but who are you comparing your earnings to? You are better paid than the private sector so that really doesn’t leave anyone else to be compared to.
Anyhow, these strikes are also never the majority of those types of workers. Let’s take the proposed fuel driver strike. Now out of the 2000 of them balloted, only actually 827 of them voted to strike. So because most of the drivers didn’t really care so they didn’t bother to vote they will all lose pay for the day’s they are on strike and 800 people are effectively holding the country to ransom till they get what they want. As we have already seen people panic buying petrol in case they do actually go on strike. As a lot of people remember what happened last time there was a strike involving petrol.
Those on the left seem to think that a strike is generally a good thing as it’s the working man fighting the system and their perceived injustice. But the last big strike was over pensions and the fact the public sector didn’t want to be brought in to line with the private sector. Which got a lot of press coverage but the general mood of the private sector was one not in support of those on strike. A strike on petrol delivery will see little or no sympathy for those on strike as it has the possibility to produce wide scale disruption to just about anyone who uses any form of transport be that car, motor bike or bus.
Now let’s for a second imagine what the reaction of those public sector employees would be if the private sector workers decided to down tools on a semi-regular basis. Imagine the outcry there would be if all shop workers went on strike for a week, there would be lots of very upset teachers and nurses who couldn’t go and buy their couscous.
Now the reason why the private sector doesn’t strike is because of a small thing called competition, if M&S workers walked out you could buy your new dress from a multitude of other places. If Tesco’s staff had a strike you could go to ASDA. Yet with the public sector you don’t have that the NHS has a monopoly on health care, there isn’t an alternative school you can send your children to for the day and you can’t look in the yellow pages to find an alternative job centre.
So I think that the laws surrounding industrial action don’t have to be changed, they need to be changed to stop a minority of people holding the country to ransom. Now this could be done in a few ways, we could introduce a minimum number of union members that have to vote in any ballot for it to be a valid one as to call a strike as a result, say 70%. Which would stop a few militant trade unionists from pushing for strike action every other week.
Or the one I am favouring the more I think about it would be a temporary ban on industrial action whilst the Office of National Statistics keep producing reports that say pay is better in the public sector over the private sector. Strikes could only be balloted on if the private/public sector pay gap was more than 7.5% in favour of the private sector. Then it may be justifiable to ask for more pay and strike if it’s not given.
Or there could be punitive measures attached to strike action, so if the teachers went on strike and 10,000 parents had to take the day of work as a result of it then the unions had to cover at least 50% of the lost wages of the parents. Or when the tube drivers go on strike and it costs London hundreds of millions, some businesses could claim back some if not all of the money that they lost as a result of it; to give some protection to small and medium business.
As, for the issues that most of these strikes are called for they should be resolved through negotiation, as if the threat of strike action was removed from the table or made something the unions couldn’t guarantee they would get. The negotiations over pay, conditions and pensions would be a lot more productive.
So to sum up, we need to change the laws concerning strikes to level the playing field, that is currently stacked against everyone but the trade unions.