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In place of strife: the prospect for strikes on London transport

This week’s decision by the rail unions to call off strike action on the national rail network was extremely welcome news for London’s businesses.

With over half a million people travelling in to London on national rail every morning, any strike would have a significant impact on the capital, with the main travel advice for most people affected being simply to stay at home given the shortage of viable transport alternatives.

It is the potential scale of such disruption that has prompted the government to propose changes to industrial relations legislation to raise the threshold for strike action on essential public services such as public transport. Indeed, the London Mayor called regularly for such a step during the last Parliament.

Earlier this week the newly appointed Business Secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC’s Today programme: “We’ve already made clear, in terms of strike laws, that there will be some significant changes… it will be a priority of ours. We need to update our strike laws.”

In future, the government proposes that a strike affecting health, transport, fire services or schools will need to be backed by 40% of eligible union members. There will also need to be a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots. Currently, a strike is valid if backed by a majority of those balloted.

We found in our own polling last year that Londoners back higher thresholds for strike action by 2 to 1, but we also recognise there is also public sympathy for legitimate action in certain circumstances. There may also be a risk that changing current rules will have the unintended consequence of encouraging more adversarial industrial relations. We will therefore monitor the detail of the government’s proposed legislation carefully before responding.

It is also important to note that any legislation will not be a panacea – for example, next week’s proposed strike would have cleared the higher thresholds proposed by government. There will therefore be a continued role for the sort of negotiated settlement we saw this week which sees employees rewarded where productivity gains are made

In the meantime, we will continue to speak to national and London rail operators to keep abreast of potential flashpoints – for example on Southern rail services or in the context of the transition to the 24 hour Tube – and to offer business support for any sensible proposals aimed at modernising our transport services.

Contact: David Leam, dleam@londonfirst.co.uk

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