From the TUC

Tory ballots – where abstentions count more than votes

18 Jul 2014, by in Working Life

So now we know that the Conservative manifesto will require strike ballots to have a 50% turn out before they are valid.

This is an absurd electoral system in which abstentions count more than votes against.

Imagine two workforces of 1,000. Both have strike ballots.

In Acme Rivets, 495 vote for action and 4 against. At the other end of the industrial estate, the staff of Gradgrind Mills are more divided. They vote for action by just one vote – 251 in favour and 250 against.

Sensible union negotiators might be wary of calling action In Gradgrind Mills as the vote reveals a divided workforce. An employer might not feel under pressure to make a much better offer.

But in Acme Rivets there is a clear mandate for action – and any employer would find that vote pretty impressive.

However under Conservative plans, a strike in Acme Rivets would be illegal. The turn out is just shy of the 50% threshold needed to make action lawful.

Contrast this with Gradgrind Mills. Despite the split vote and even though 244 fewer workers voted for action, a strike would be legal.

But if only one person who voted ‘no’ among the Gradgrind workforce abstained instead, the vote would become invalid as the turn out would no longer be in excess of 5o%.

The Conservative system makes abstentions count more effectively as ways of preventing action than people filling in a ballot paper. People who do not vote are considered not just to be opponents of action, but given more say than those who oppose the action and take the trouble to register a vote.

Perhaps the next policy will be to assume that everyone in the next election who does not vote, should be counted as voting Conservative.

This is frankly daft. But one suspects rationality is not the motivating force here.

Unions want good turnouts in strike ballots. Despite the media stereotype of union bosses ordering strikes, unions know that members need to feel very strongly about an issue before they give up their pay to take action. Levels of industrial action are low.

In general the larger the group of workers balloted the lower the turnout. The insistence on postal ballots in an era when most post tends to be junk mail or bills does not encourage turnout. No-one wants to go back to mass votes in car parks, but other organisations – including unions running non-statutory ballots – get much better turn outs when they allow secure secret online balloting from PCs or smartphones, as well as postal ballots.

Under the last government a law was passed to allow  on-line balloting, but it was never brought into force. If the Conservatives were serious about increasing turnout then they could simply turn this provision on, and allow secret workplace ballots independently supervised.

You can back the TUC’s campaign to extend voting rights here.


4 Responses to Tory ballots – where abstentions count more than votes

  1. bert clough
    Jul 18th 2014, 12:39 pm

    Very well argued piece Nigel

  2. Steve King
    Jul 19th 2014, 9:09 am

    Surely though this will encourage bigger turnouts (which you imply you want).

    If you know that unless 50% vote nothing happens, people who want to strike are stupid if they don’t take part in the ballot.

    Personally I think it should just be ‘Abstentions are automatically counted as ‘no’ votes’. Then, if the majority of members genuinely want to strike at least 51% will make sure they cast their ‘yes’ vote.

  3. harry little
    Jul 22nd 2014, 10:00 am

    What gives any government the right to dictate to a lawfull organisation, what percntage of its members should vote, before calling any sort of industrial action. Its another nail in the union coffin if this is aloud to happen.

  4. Calling Cameron’s bluff on strike votes | STRONGER UNIONS
    Jul 25th 2014, 9:30 am

    […] to see strike ballots only succeed where there’s a turnout over 50% (incidentally a threshold not met by a single MP’s election). He also wants to criminalise peaceful picketing, force unions to […]