Abusing the right to strike | Daily News

Abusing the right to strike

The recent wildcat strikes by the railway guards and engine drivers, postal workers, private bus drivers and doctors, bring into sharp focus the moral responsibilities of the unions and the indiscrete resort to strike action to win their demands. These recent strikes have unmistakably manifested the helplessness of the innocent public. They are worst affected because they do not have any “union” to represent their woes.

The general public now believe it is time to seriously consider the moral obligations of trade unions towards society and the need for effective legislation to regulate public service unions particularly those which belong to essential services.

When it comes to labour negotiations there are real differences between services provided by monopolies and those provided in competitive markets. Suppose unionized workers at one of our Super Market chains decide to exercise their right to strike. First, the strike does little more than inconvenience to consumers because many alternatives exist. Second, market force mechanisms pressure both the employer and the union to settle their differences quickly on terms both can live with.

However, no such mechanism exists when the service is provided by a government monopoly.

One sensible solution to ensure uninterrupted public services is to deny the right to strike in the public sector as a condition of employment. The rationale is simple: If you want to work for the public sector, you must give up your right to strike. Such a proposal would clearly ensure continued access to services but leaves the problem of how salaries and other facilities in the public sector would be determined. If public sector workers are not permitted to strike, how can they be ensured that they will not be taken advantage of by their employer, the government?

The solution is to link public sector salaries and perks to their private sector counterparts through a non-political independent authority. The authority will be held responsible for collecting, analysing, and setting salaries and other earnings in the public sector on the basis of salaries and benefits in the private sector.

That would be one straight forward way of looking at the issue. But there are other solutions as practised by the developed nations elsewhere.

Wildcat strikes

Remarkably, in many European countries there are more strike days in the public sector than in the private sector. According to available records, in Europe in recent years about 2/3 of all strike took place in the public sector, whereas in the good old days it used to be only 20 %.

Let us take Germany as an example. The increase of industrial action in the public sector in Germany has made the government rethink about their legal framework. They asked themselves few important questions: Can we ban completely (or partially) the strikes in the public sector? Can we enforce the strikers to observe some special requirements or adhere to certain procedures (arbitration or mediation) relate to strike action? Can we provoke emergency services as and when needed? Above all, how can these restrictions be enforced by law?

The German government realised that other than Belgium, Italy and themselves, in most of the other European countries industrial action is regulated by statute law. Those countries that have introduced legislation do not need case law to regulate industrial action.

For example, Italy, Slovenia and Spain guarantee the right to strike, but provide some limitations. Slovenian constitution says: “Employees have the right to strike. Where required by the public interest, the right to strike may be restricted by law, with due consideration given to the type and nature of activity involved.”

Spanish Constitution says: “The right of workers to strike in defence of their interests is recognized. The law governing the exercise of this right shall establish the safeguards necessary to ensure the maintenance of essential public services.


Concerning strikes particularly in the public sector there are specific regulations in some European countries. In Germany, civil and public servants are prohibited to strike. Certain other European countries do not have such special rules; however, such rules might not be necessary for them since they have general statutory limitations of the right to strike where essential services are concerned.

Apart from these limitations for essential services many countries provide further restrictions of industrial actions. Among these are: (a) political strikes (Germany, Israel, Norway, Spain) are banned, (b) strikes for reinstatement of dismissed employees are disallowed, (c) strikes during the life of a collective agreement (Germany) are not allowed.

Obligatory arbitration

In some European countries obligatory arbitration or mediation are provided by collective Agreements. The arbitration/ mediation may come in different names like, national conciliation and mediation board or special mediator office etc., In those countries the breach of this obligation will render a strike illegal.

Certain other European countries demand a cooling down period and a period of notice before a strike. The period of notice can be between 5 days to 15 days.

In Italy and Spain strikes may not endanger health care, transport, energy supply, bank and postal services. These countries put up some special rules as well such as sufficient period of notice, obligatory minimal services during strike period. In Italy 50 % of the services must be provided and 30 % of the staff must be at work.


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