The weekend debate: Is mandatory arbitration the answer to public transport strikes?

Here’s your starter for ten in our weekend slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

With the Olympics approaching and not all the details of staff conditions on London’s public transport settled, talk of how easy or not it should be to call a strike is often popping up in political debates. The answer from many Conservatives is to make strikes harder by demanding a minimum turnout threshold for strikes. That idea often runs into criticism and the one time I’ve sent a tweet which trended on the front page of Twitter’s website in its old guise was when I pointed out that the turnout threshold Boris Johnson was talking about was higher than the turnout in his own election.

However, there is a different possibly answer available from Australia: allow the government to impose independent arbitration if a strike action will cause serious disruption to the country. The scope for discretion by the government and the definition of serious are not trivial issues, having caused some political controversy in Australia over the Qantas strike for example.

So as a principle what do you think: is this a sensible approach that reduces strikes but without making the power of each side in labour relations unbalanced?

Agree? Disagree? Post your comments below…

* Mark Pack is Party President and Co-leader of the party. He is editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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9 Comments

  • Richard Dean 23rd Jun '12 - 11:17am

    All the fat cats want to make money from the Games. Of course they don’t want the workers to, because that means they’ll lose out. So they invent the idea that a fat cat not being able to make money is the same as the country experiencng serious disruption.

    What is the question or issue to which mandatory arbitration would be the “answer”? And why is the disruption to Quantas staff (which disruption gave rise to the strike) not also a serious thing?

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd Jun '12 - 11:33am

    All the fat cats want to make money from the Games. Of course they don’t want the workers to, because that means they’ll lose out.

    Oh, come on. The bus companies offered a £500 bonus to all drivers who worked the Olympics (most of them). The unions rejected this offer, demanding that the Olympics bonus also be paid to drivers who were not affected by the Olympics.

    Does that sound like “fat cats not wanting the workers to make money from the games” to you?

    (It does to me, it’s just that the fat cats in question are the union bosses)

  • Richard Dean 23rd Jun '12 - 11:45am

    @Andrew. So the serious disruption is actually being caused by the bus companies not being able to see that all the drvers are affected, and not being willing to pay the extra few whose won’t be affected in the minor detail of their working patterns ?

  • Malcolm Todd 23rd Jun '12 - 10:48pm

    “To assume that arbitration would lead to less strikes implies that ALL call-outs for strikes are unreasonable.”

    Er, no. It just assumes that SOME of them are. (It assumes some other, possibly questionable, things as well. But not that strikes are always “unreasonable”, whatever that means.)

  • Robin Gonard 24th Jun '12 - 8:45am

    If we forget about the specifics of the London bus drivers’ dispute (others have it so I should is really an issue of equity…), and focus on arbitration of employment disputes, this is one of the oldest form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – e.g. Village Elder resolving disputes.

    Many industrial disputes are resolved by negotiations, mediation (another popular form of ADR), often through ACAS. One of the key difference is that arbitration requires an “independent” person by whose decision they agree to be bound.

    It is probably a good thing that some form of ADR should be used before strikes, but arbitration may not be the best method.

    Family Courts are frequently using ADR to avoid lengthy, expensive and stressful divorce and children custody proceedings.

    My final worry is that several forms of ADR was used in the public sector pensions saga (neutral fact-finding, and case evaluation). ADR found against the government, who promptly ignored the findings and imposed the changes. ADR clearly isn’t going to work if both sides can just ignore it.

  • Euan Davidson 24th Jun '12 - 10:25am

    This doesn’t sound a very practical idea who is going to decide what is in the national interest? Will the arbitrators decision be put to union members or will the union be legally bound to follow the decision?

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