Don’t rule out union reform for Northern Ireland – DUP

DUP MLA Peter Weir: 'PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON
DUP MLA Peter Weir: 'PICTURE BY STEPHEN DAVISON

Proposed new laws designed to tighten rules on strike ballots in Great Britain should not be dismissed as unsuitable for Northern Ireland, a DUP MLA has said.

Peter Weir said the Trade Union Bill – which has been introduced by the Conservative government – “requires further consideration” as it could reassure potential investors.

If the bill becomes law, a turnout of at least 50 per cent of members will be needed to initiate strike action, with public sector strikes requiring the backing of at least 40 per cent of those eligible to vote.

Under the current rules, industrial action can go ahead with the backing of a simple majority of those taking part in the ballot.

The reform package would also dictate that union members have to actively “opt in” to political levies – the proceeds of which are overwhelmingly paid into Labour coffers – and reduce restrictions on firms’ use of agency staff.

The North Down MLA said he has experience of prospective investors presuming that Northern Ireland has the same union laws as other UK regions.

“Of course employment law is devolved, thus enabling us to take our approach to such matters, however, we must be mindful as to what impact such a deviation from the rest of the United Kingdom will have. Our trade union laws do need updated. Only last March the INTU voted for industrial action yet 74 per cent of its members failed to vote in support of the action. It is sensible to review our laws and premature to dismiss any need for reform,” he added.

Mr Weir was reacting to comments from Employment and Learning Minister Stephen Farry – that he had no plans to initiate similar reforms in the Province.

Mr Farry said employment law was a devolved matter and that he believed the planned reforms risked “undermining traditional rights to industrial action”.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady branded the bill an “unnecessary attack on workers’ rights and civil liberties that will shift the balance of power in the workplace”.

Sinn Fein’s Phil Flanagan branded the proposals “immoral”.

Consultations on the 40 strike ballot threshold for key public sectors, picketing rules, and use of agency workers will be open until September.