TORIES suffered a heavy defeat over anti-strike laws in the House of Lords last night, with peers voting to pilot e-balloting for strike votes.
The house voted by 320 to 181 to commission an independent review into introducing electronic voting.
Unions say the current ban on the practice impedes turnouts in strike ballots, which face arbitrary thresholds under the Trade Union Bill.
As the Star went to press last night, the government was also facing knife-edge votes on watering down the government’s attempted crackdown on facility time and union political funds.
The amendment on e-ballots was proposed by former Civil Service chief Lord Kerslake, who sits in the Lords as a crossbencher.
He said the “unspoken” reason for the government’s opposition to the move was “that they want to make it as hard as possible for unions to deliver the participation thresholds.”
Echoing unions’ criticisms of the Bill, he said ministers could not “advocate the use of digital technology in every aspect of our lives but then deny its use to our trade unions.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “This defeat should be a wake-up call. Only one Conservative peer spoke in favour of the government today and they were defeated by almost two to one.
“Ministers need to see sense and allow unions to use 21st-century tools to boost ballot turnouts.
“The success of Lord Kerslake’s amendment is a victory for common sense. E-balloting is used by organisations across the country, including the Conservative Party. Allowing unions to use it is a no-brainer.”
The measure was even backed by some Tories, including former cabinet minister Lord Forsyth, who warned that the Bill’s contents would lead to the accusation that the government was undermining “the rights and responsibilities of trade unions to look after the interests of their members.”
He asked his colleagues: “Why on Earth would we want to resist something which would allow increased participation?”
Many unions have gone further, calling for “secure workplace balloting” to ensure that electronic voting is permitted not only in workers’ homes.
Tory Business Minister Lady Neville-Rolfe said security and confidentiality concerns were behind the government’s opposition to e-balloting.