Liz Truss, foreign secretary, has proposed sweeping reforms to UK trade union laws that would guarantee minimum services during strikes and raise the threshold on the number of workers needing to take part in ballots on industrial action.
Truss, the bookmakers’ favourite to be the UK’s next prime minister, pledged on Monday to introduce legislation that would implement a requirement for some provision to keep running during public sector walkouts.
The proposal, part of the Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto, has been resurrected against a backdrop of public sector workers threatening further strikes this summer over pay and working conditions.
Boris Johnson’s government had insisted it would take six to 12 months for parliament to pass the legislation. But Truss pledged to enact the minimum service commitments within 30 days of entering Downing Street.
The foreign secretary added that she would raise the voting participation threshold required by unions to approve walkouts by their members.
Currently, unions must secure a 50 per cent turnout of a company’s workers for a strike to be legal. In addition, employees in “important public services” need to obtain an active vote from over 40 per cent of the entire workforce.
Truss pledged to change the law to require 50 per cent of the entire workforce to vote “yes” in order for a strike to go ahead, and that this would apply to all places of work not just crucial public services.
The foreign secretary said: “We need tough and decisive action to limit trade unions’ ability to paralyse our economy. I will do everything in my power to make sure that militant action from trade unions can no longer cripple the vital services that hard-working people rely on.”
She promised to limit the number of times workers can stage walkouts in the six months after a successful ballot. She would also scrap tax-free payments to striking workers.
But Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, criticised Truss’s proposals, saying the right to industrial action was an important British freedom.
“Threatening the right to strike means working people lose the power to bargain for better pay and conditions,” she said.
“Instead of taking potshots at working people and their unions, the candidates should come up with plans to get wages rising again. That’s how to deal with the cost-of-living emergency.”
Meanwhile, ministers have warned that the increasingly fractious rivalry between Truss and ex-chancellor Rishi Sunak was damaging the Tory party’s chances at the next election.
Allies of the two candidates have stepped up their attacks in recent days as each seeks to win over the Conservative members who will choose the next party leader and prime minister.
Sunak and Truss went head-to-head for the first time in a televised debate on Monday evening, with both candidates eager to make headway before voting by Tory activists starts in about 10 days’ time.
Several prominent Tories have called on the candidates to change their tone. Amanda Milling, Foreign Office minister and a former chair of the party, said the contest was “more toxic than I’ve ever seen”. Johnny Mercer, veterans minister, described the race as “puerile” and “embarrassing”, calling on both camps to “raise the standards”.