Tube Strikes

MQT on 2013-05-22
Session date: 
May 22, 2013
Question By: 
Richard Tracey
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor


How many Tube Strikes would have gone ahead over the last 8 years if strikes ballots had had a threshold of 50%+1 of all eligible union members in order to be passed?


Answer for Tube Strikes

Answer for Tube Strikes

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Thank you very much, Dick. I am grateful to you for your report into this. You ask how many strikes would have gone ahead if there had been a 50%+1 threshold of all eligible union members in order to be passed.

I think this is capable of being construed in two ways, what you are asking, because there are basically two ways you could do this. You could either have a threshold which was 50% of all those balloted so that no strike could be called unless 50% of those balloted participated in the ballot, so you would have a turnout threshold. Or you could say that no strike could be called unless 50% of the relevant membership voted in favour of the action, which you will appreciate is an even tougher criterion. That is I think the one that you favour, though the one that we have proposed is the more moderate approach, the first one I mentioned.

Actually, it turns out that over the last eight years there would be precious little difference between the two outcomes because, if you had had 50%+1 of those who balloted voting yes and if that had been the rule for the last eight years, there would have only been three strikes on London Underground (LU). Had you had the slightly weaker or slightly more moderate proposal that we have been proposing, you would have only had four strikes, so the actual effective difference between the two ways of doing it does not seem on this analysis to be very significant.

Richard Tracey (AM): You are right. We have been inclined towards the stronger threshold. Are you aware that from polling of Londoners nearly 60% believe that it is too easy for Tube strikes to happen and a very small percentage, I think less than 15%, think that it is too difficult? So there is a desire amongst Londoners that the legislation should certainly be strengthened. I believe it has been costed. It is a little while since it was costed. £15 million a day, apparently, it costs the London economy and that is very serious. Quite honestly, Mr Mayor, you should be taking that very seriously yourself. Londoners expect you to.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): They are right and I am grateful to you for the support that you have given, Dick, on this. This is something we have made repeated representations to Government about since 2008. We obviously did not get anywhere with Labour, as it happens, but we had high hopes that the Coalition would take this up. It has not been possible to persuade the Government to go even for the moderate proposal, the 50% turnout threshold, that we have. I think it is entirely reasonable. Why should a strike go ahead which massively inconveniences Londoners and costs millions of pounds, as you say, when the question has attracted votes from fewer than 50% of the relevant workforce? They cannot even be bothered to take part and very often that is because of a reluctance to be seen to be voting against strike action and a certain culture of not wanting to ruffle the features of the trade unions and so on and so forth. I think that is wrong. There should be a very clear threshold so that strikes cannot go ahead unless at least 50% of the relevant body of the workforce has actually participated in the strike ballot. Otherwise, you are inconveniencing Londoners. You are doing huge damage to the London economy or potentially considerable damage to the London economy on the say-so of a relatively tiny proportion of the workforce.

Richard Tracey (AM): Yes. Of course, not only Londoners themselves but the business organisations like the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and so on also believe that it is quite crazy. There have been occasions when a small number of members of one of the transport unions actually voted but then an even smaller number actually supported the strike, so it can be that perhaps less than 20% of the membership of the union then brings London Underground to a halt.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): Yes, or 15%. It can be 10%. That is completely crazy. What you have is a straight majority of those who actually bothered to vote. If you have a tiny proportion that has bothered to vote, you are getting strikes called on a relatively small proportion of the workforce. I do not think that is the right way forward. We have made this case repeatedly to government at all levels. Occasionally we have heard some favourable mutterings from the oracle but nothing has ever really been produced. It is very frustrating. I will not hide it from you.

Richard Tracey (AM): So do you agree that this is the sort of thing that the Government ought to be tackling rather than some of the other things which they have been which rather frustrate the British public, let alone the London public?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London): I think it would be a very good thing if it was tackled. It would be immensely popular and I do not know why it is not done. It seems to me to be just. Also, it is fundamentally unfair on the huge majority of the transport workers in these cases who either have not participated and have then found that they have to lose their income for the day because there is a strike or actually actively oppose it and find that they have to lose their income, so I think it would be a reasonable reform that would protect large numbers of the workforce who are being effectively coerced into strike action by a minority and by the activism of the unions. I would like to see the Government get on with it.

Richard Tracey (AM): Thank you.