Should Tube Workers be allowed to strike?

11 06 2009

This is a thought that has been exercising me (and some of my colleagues) today. In comparison to some of my commuting co-workers (particularly those training in to Waterloo) I had a fairly smooth journey in; not that I want to seem smug about it you understand.  It took Nicola, our trainee solicitor, two hours to get from Waterloo into the City.  She wasn’t alone with nightmare tales to tell.   Reading over someone’s shoulder at the station I saw that the London Lite newspaper has also been questioning it given the travel chaos the RMT has foisted on us today. On their letters page they published a selection of readers’ comments which were 4 – 3 against the RMT. The general consensus around my office was that tube workers shouldn’t be allowed to strike, given the amount of chaos and severe disruption it causes.  Is it just me or do the RMT always seem to call a strike when there is a major sporting event on (the Lions tour to South Africa and the ICC Twenty20 World Cup spring to mind and the Ashes Test series starts next month – are there any strikes planned for then?).  At least the weather isn’t that brilliant for them this week.

The days of hard-left Union bosses holding the public to ransom should be long over.  I have distant memories of the winter of discontent in 1978/79 and then the tanker drivers strike gave us a few days off school: I was all in favour of industrial action in those days! Those days though are long gone; tube drivers are paid pretty reasonable salaries in comparison to other public workers and I would support a ban on them being allowed to strike.  Firemen too.  Particularly firemen.

It would require legislation, of course.  At the moment the Trades Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 (TULCRA) provides protection to employees taking part in “official” industrial action, so that if an employee is dismissed for going on strike within 12 weeks of starting industrial action, it will be an automatically unfair dismissal.  A Union is required to ballot its members to get approval for strike action and if it fails to do so and endorses a “wildcat” strike, the Union puts itself at risk of being sued by any person suffering loss as a result of the strike.  If this immunity were to be restricted further (or even removed) it might make the more militant unions think twice before calling strike action.  The London Chamber of Commerce claim that the strike today cost 15mn, although I am always sceptical of such claims. It would, of course, infringe the European Court of Human Rights because it has previously been held that restricting strike action encroaches upon the right of freedom of assembly and association”.  A specific and targeted ban on strike action in important areas like the railways and fire service might avoid that problem because of the wider benefit to the public. 

I fully accept that Unions once had a vital role to play in protecting employees’ rights – I’m thinking of the appalling deprivation suffered by the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the railway workers involved in the Taff Vale case in the early years of the last century.  The RMT workers aren’t the Tolpuddle Martyrs though.

What do you think?  Here is another poll.

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2 responses

18 06 2009
Clyte & Ludo

Enjoying the blog Jobsworth, it provides a welcome boss friendly break.

I don’t necessarily agree with depriving one’s right to strike, but the rationality of the recent strike should definitely be questioned.

The dismissal of 2 employees for gross misconduct and the relative size of the RMT union in relation to the other Tube unions surely does not legitimise the transport chaos that a full 48 hour tube strike produces!

18 06 2009
michaelscutt

Thanks for the comment; I’m glad you like it. I’ve never been called “boss friendly” before!

Restricting the right to strike would be a big step but, as you, say the RMT doesn’t seem to exercise its power responsibly.

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