HC Deb 16 May 1989 vol 153 cc157-9
10. Mr. Yeo

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the work days lost through strikes in (a) February 1979 and (b) February 1989.

Mr. Fowler

Nearly 2.5 million days were lost through strikes in February 1979. In February 1989, it is provisionally estimated that 58,000 working days were lost. In the year to February 1989, 3 million working days were lost. In the year to February 1979, 13.3 million working days were lost. It is in everyone's interest that this improvement should be maintained.

Mr. Yeo

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one absolutely certain way of increasing the number of days lost through strikes would be to repeal the Government's employment legislation, as some union bosses want their lackeys in the Labour party to do?

Mr. Fowler

That is entirely right. Those problems would be made even worse if any of the proposals on the extension of secondary action and secondary picketing were ever adopted in this country. The sort of proposals that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and the Labour party are putting forward represent a charter for strikes.

Mr. Bidwell

Does it not appear that as we head towards a summer of discontent, employment legislation is taking this matter out of the hands of trade union leaders to such an extent that unofficial strikes are likely to increase enonnously, as inflation rises and the value of wages falls?

Mr. Fowler

That is not true. The hon. Gentleman was drawing a comparison with the winter of discontent, when the headlines in February 1979 ran as follows: Health warning as the rubbish piles mount up"; Ambulance men walking out"; and Strike in children's wards". That was the record of the Labour Government, of which the hon. Member for Oldham, West was a prominent member.

Mr. Madel

Does my right hon. Friend agree that after 10 years of changes in industrial relations law, management still has a responsibility clearly to explain to each employee why a particular pay claim can or cannot be accepted? To that extent, does he agree that the country is looking to employers and unions in the electricity supply industry to work out a solution to their problem without industrial disruption?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, what my hon. Friend says is wise. It is clearly not in the interests of the public or of anyone working in those industries that industrial action should take place.

Mr. Heller

I ask the right hon. Gentleman to remember that there were no strikes in Hitler's Germany, or in Mussolini's Italy, or in Stalin's Russia, or in Franco's Spain, and that there are no strikes in any country in which legislation makes them illegal. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we are getting close to that in this country? People's rights to work or not to work in pursuit of decent conditions are being taken away from them. The right hon. Gentleman had better understand that sooner or later the workers' dam will break—they will not stand for this for ever.

Mr. Fowler

What the hon. Gentleman has said is, with respect, utter nonsense. It will not be accepted by the vast majority of people in this country. When the hon. Gentleman talks about employment, the fact is that industrial action destroys jobs and does not create jobs. Many people in this country resent the attempt of the Labour party to put unions above the law again.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett

Will my right hon. Friend not agree that workers' rights have actually been increased under this Government by making sure that they have a secret ballot before they are forced to strike? What does he think of the Labour party's proposals that strikes should start before the workers have been consulted?

Mr. Fowler

The Labour party, and particularly the hon. Member for Oldham, West, have a great deal of explaining to do about those proposals, and I cannot understand the enthusiasm which appears to be coming from him and Labour Members for industrial action, which cannot be in the interests of anyone in this country.

Mr. Strang

If the dock employers continue to refuse to negotiate collective agreements with the Transport and General Workers Union to replace the dock labour scheme and the registered dockers come out on strike, will the Government give the port employers the same unconditional support they gave British Coal during the miners' strike?

Mr. Fowler

There is absolutely no reason for the TGWU to call out the dockers on strike action over the abolition of the dock labour scheme. The port employers have offered talks at port level, which is a sensible step. The only people who will lose out as a result of industrial action in scheme ports are those in the scheme ports themselves, and I hope that will be remembered by all those working in them.

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