CONTROVERSIAL reforms to strike laws have cleared their first Commons hurdle despite furious opposition from Labour.
The Government’s Trade Union Bill was given a second reading 317 to 284, majority 33, following more than six hours of debate.
New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made his debut appearance on the Labour front bench, listening silently to the opening exchanges led by Business Secretary Sajid Javid and his new shadow, Angela Eagle.
The legislation creates minimum turnout thresholds for strike ballots to carry and in public services requires at least 40 per cent of eligible union members to back a strike.
It also plans to end the so-called check-off system of collecting union subscriptions directly from members’ salaries, with workers switching to direct debit.
Ms Eagle said: “I am dismayed that we have a Government which believes in attacking trade unions rather than working with them in the spirit of social partnership to improve efficiency, economic efficiency and productivity in our country.
“It saddens me beyond words that we’re here today dealing with the most significant, sustained and partisan attack on six million trade union members and their workplace organisations that we have seen in this country in the last 30 years.
“With the number of days lost to strike action down 90 per cent in the last 20 years there is absolutely no necessity whatsoever to employ the law in this draconian way.”
Mr Javid insisted the proposed laws were the natural next stage of evolution in trade union law.
He told MPs: “(Unions) have helped deliver a fairer society. They helped deliver higher wages, safer work places, stronger employee rights.
“Unions helped my father when he first worked on the cotton mills and they helped him again when a whites-only policy threatened to block him from becoming a bus driver.
“And just as the workplace has evolved over that time, so have the trade unions and the laws that govern them. In 2015, no one would argue for the return of the closed shop, I hope. The show of hands vote in a dimly lit car park or the wildcat walkout enforced by a handful of heavies.
“Now it is time for Britain’s unions to take that next step and this Bill will help do just that.”
But Labour veteran Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) insisted: “This Bill is opposed by all the unions affiliated to the Labour movement, it’s opposed by all those that are not affiliated to the Labour movement, and even the Royal College of Nursing has said no to this Bill. It’s a travesty and it’s an intrusion upon the democracy of the workplace. Get rid of it.”
Earlier the Government has defended its controversial Bill on strike laws describing it as creating the best environment for modern industry.
In a debate which saw Mr Corbyn make his first appearance sitting on the Opposition frontbench, his MPs queued up to criticise the Government’s plans.
Presenting the Bill, Mr Javid said: “This is not about the Government versus the unions. It’s about creating a modern legislative framework for modern industrial relations.
“It’s about ensuring that a handful of militants can’t force great hardship on their members.”