Simon Wren-Lewis reflects on the different language used about regulation and employment law when the restrictions apply to employees.
Employees are already beset by red tape if they try to improve their working conditions. Now the UK government wants to increase the regulatory burden on them further, by proposing that employee organisations need a majority of all their members to vote for strike action before a strike becomes legal.
Why should laws that apply to employers be regarded as a regulatory burden, but laws that apply to employees are not. Labour markets, alongside financial markets, are areas where the concept of a ‘free’ market uncluttered by regulations is a myth.
The government, although declaring its intention to reduce the burden of employment law, is considering tougher legislation on industrial action and, possibly, an outright ban in some areas. (See previous posts.)
Not that this stance is unusual. According to the most recent OECD report on employment protection, only two other OECD countries have less protection for the individual employee than the UK. Those countries are Canada and the USA.
Yet, in both, legislation against industrial action is tougher than it is here. In the USA, all federal government employees and most other public sector workers are banned from striking. Canada has bans on strikes in essential services, the definition for which is fairly broad, and its Back to Work law can be used to force even private sector employees to end their strikes.
These governments’ antipathy to regulation disappears when it comes to restricting industrial action. Labour law, it seems, is fine if it’s applied to trade unions. Our government appears to be thinking along similar lines.