Should the courts be able to stop strikes due to unions making trivial mistakes?
Going to court to stop strikes seems to be becoming popular. In the latest case a strike by BA cabin crew has been stopped by the courts because they did not provide their members with the vote totals for the ballot on whether they should strike. This seems to be a completely trivial reason to stop a strike that has been voted for action with a majority of 81%, at that kind of mandate surely the members are not bothered whether they are given the exact figures. The courts seem to be preventing workers from having a right to strike
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The courts take into account all factors
The courts are often referred to as the guardians of principle. Whilst the laws and rules may seem rigid, courts do their best to apply the standards evenly and in the best interests of all those involved. The courts in these scenarios look to the position of the corporation being struck against, the employees striking and the general public. The courts are in the best position to weigh in all these considerations and come to a conclusion. They may appear to be disallowing a strike due to trivial procedural rules, but the reality is, their thought process goes far and beyond that. They read into the words. If they thought the strike was in the public benefit they would not prevent the strike due to such trivial rules, they would obviate the requirements.
Striking action should not be based around public benefit. The whole idea of striking is to protect employees. To prevent large corporations taking advantage of employees who have little or no power. Striking is the opportunity for staff to have a voice. The general public already have their voice in corporations. They have the power of the consumer. If they disagree with companies ethical or staffing policies they can withhold their custom. Staff who are in an economically disadvantaged position do not have the equivalent option. They need strikes to have a voice that are based around their interests alone. Trivial formalities should come after the rights of these members of staff.
The right to strike should not be abused
We have a right to strike in this country. But that does not give us the ultimate power to cause disruption. People should not try and use their right to strike as a tantrum. It is supposed to be a symbolic rejection of new plans of a large corporation. We exhibit nothing more than childish behaviour if we abuse this right to strike and allow such strikes to occur unchecked. Everyone should comply with procedural rules to ensure that such abuse is not occurring. Even if they may seem like trivial rule breaks, we need to keep people from deliberately curtailing them.
If you are under the view which your argument seems to suggest that we have an unequivocal right to strike, then you cannot also hold that we are not allowed to abuse it. If we have a true right in something we have an unlimited access to it and are free to use it how we like. This is the difference between a right and a privilege. The reason why so many people were upset in the 80’s when Thatcher lessened the effect of Union action was that people felt their rights were being diluted, not that a privilege was being taken away. Given this, there can be no possibility of people causing their rights and therefore there is no reason for us to limit the effect of people’s rights.
The reason why we have any law in this country is to ensure certainty. We know that if such and such happens; such and such is the legal consequence. In the case of commerce, this certainty is vital. In order for our financial markets to keep being invested into, investors need to be sure of procedures and the protection they are afforded. They will never try and enter into vague contracts for this very reason. Strikes need to be curtailed into the same level of certainty in order to keep foreign investments entering the British market. At least if a strike does occur, the company has enough notice in compliance with the procedural rules of strikes. This time will enable them to put in motion a plan to minimise the commercial damage of the strike. Without this, our economy would suffer even more than it already has.
But commercial damage is exactly what strikes threaten. If strikes did not cause commercial damage then large corporations would have no need to take heed of them. The argument you put forward shows how these procedural rules curtail the effect of strikes and leaves large corporations open to act how they like and in complete disregard of their staff.
Trivial procedural rules prevent trivial strikes
If strikes were allowed to take place without taking account of any procedural rules, then people would go on strike for the most trivial of reasons; not enough fruit in the office; not enough light in the office; everyone wanting their own office. Such things which are luxuries rather than necessities would suddenly become enough for a strike to occur. If people didn’t have to put effort into planning, gathering votes and complying with a timescale then it would be all too easy to strike. Having these procedural rules in place means that people only strike if they truly feel that what they are striking for is important. Given the high impact that such strikes have on the economy, it is beneficial that these procedural rules are in place.
This is a highly unrealistic view of how strikes operate. Staff do not get paid if they do not cross the picket line so to speak. When members of staff go on strike they are not paid their full wage. This is what prevents strikes occurring all the time. People would not lose even half a day of wages in order to complain about trivial factors of employment such as lack of fruit or natural light! Already, the lack of wages prevents trivial strikes; there is absolutely no need to place another barrier in the way, such as trivial procedural requirements.
If BA were as careless with passenger safety then thy would be facing a lot worse
What the courts are adopting is a sense of equal treatment. Unite is a large trade union. It has the man power. It has the funding. It has the resources. It is exercising all three of these rather carelessly, but this does not change the fact they have the correct tools and the correct procedures at hand. If BA were to act as carelessly with their flight timings, with their staffing levels, with their safety policies, then they would be facing a lot worse than court overruled strikes; that much can be guaranteed. We can see this with the Buffer Zone caused by the Icelandic volcano eruption. If BA were careless about which flights they allowed to continue, they would be facing severe consequences. They cannot operate without such due care. Unite should learn that if they are told to follow a procedure, they should, even down to whether 11 votes were spoiled. To allow Unite away with such negligence would be unfair on BA who are never allowed to display such negligence.
It undermines the concept of striking
The whole point of striking is o place the company which has upset its employees in a position which renders them forced to look into the situation and try to recuperate its staff by holding negotiations. Large companies will not listen to individual concerns. The company needs to fear damage. If one individual causes damage, they receive a dismissal. Striking is one of the only ways to gather people together and to cause the company damage in a legal way. The company loses reputation and if the strike goes ahead, they will lose business. These procedural rules undermine the effect of a strike. If companies have the opportunity to delay and control the strike, they can buy themselves more time to protect themselves. The more time they have to protect themselves, the less of an impact the strike will have and the less likely the company are willing to hold negotiations and concede to staff wishes.
It does not undermine striking so long as the strikers stick to the rules. If a union follows everything by the book then there is plenty of time after a strike is called to sort the issue out by negotiations and there is then a strike if these are not sucessful. The courts stopping strikes simply extends the negotiating period as the union reballots which can be a good thing. Instead of getting the strike over and done with the company has the threat hanging over it for longer. It is only if the courts begin preventing strikes on no legal grounds that we have cause to worry about strikers rights.
The system favours large businesses.
The law is the oyster of the rich. Only those who are powerful and wealthy will want to initiate court proceedings. Others would seek alternative dispute resolutions methods which are less costly. BA being the big business it is keeps relying on the court to step in. Not only is it able to (due to its power and wealth) apply to court and have interim injunctions against strikes in place, but it can also hire the best solicitors and barristers to ague their case. The court system favours large businesses. Law itself is nothing but a wealth churning money making industry. How can these courts ever be said to be acting in the best interests of those who strike.
What do you think?