UK Politics

Bid to stop employers challenging strike ballots fails

British Airways tailfins
Image caption Mr McDonnell's measure would have stopped BA blocking strikes on a technicality

An attempt to change the law to stop employers using legal technicalities to stop strikes has failed to clear the Commons.

Labour left winger John McDonnell's Lawful Industrial Action Bill would have allowed strikes even after accidental errors in union balloting.

But the proposal ran out of time and stands little chance of going further.

Mr McDonnell said the measure would have "changed the climate of industrial relations".

The legislation backed by a number of unions aimed to prevent situations like the recent legal wrangling between British Airways and the Unite union.

British Airways was able to go to the High Court and argue Unite's strike ballot was invalid, because it included BA staff who were leaving the company and therefore would not be working for it during any strike.

Mr McDonnell said his Bill would have a "significant impact on restoring basic civil liberties."

'Previous age'

But the measure was not supported by the Labour front bencher Nia Griffith who insisted the party was "committed to ensuring... that strikes cannot take place without a properly conducted ballot".

But she agreed the existing law was not working as it had been intended.

"In recent years, employers have successfully challenged ballots - not because there was any doubt about the view of the majority of those balloted but because of minor technical non-compliances, which would have no impact whatsoever on the result of the ballot."

The junior business minister, Liberal Democrat MP Ed Davey, said the arguments for Mr McDonnell's Bill seemed to be "a throwback to a previous age".

There was a need to "draw a line under our industrial relations history and turn the page", he said.

The government was anxious to engage with the trade unions.

"We want to hear their considered views and develop a common understanding and approach to the severe problems this country faces," he said.

Mr McDonnell used a parliamentary procedure known as a closure motion in an attempt to stop his Bill being talked out - the practice where opponents of a measure keep talking until time for debate runs out.

MPs voted 87 to 27 in favour of bringing debate to a close, but under Commons rules 100 "yes" votes are needed so discussion continued.

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was still making a speech when time for debate ran out at 2.30pm, so the Bill failed to gain a second reading and now stands little chance of making progress due to Commons rules.

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