Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith has put forward plans to stop benefits payments to top up the wages of low-paid workers who go on strike as part of the proposed Universal Credit system.
At the moment, a striker on less than £13,000 a year is eligible to claim Working Tax Credit for the first 10 days of a strike to compensate for lost income. It is thought that the proposed change in the system could save the taxpayer tens of thousands of pounds, as nearly 1.4 million days were lost to strike action last year.
Mr Duncan Smith criticised the current rules as being out-of-date and unfair, saying: “It is totally wrong that the current benefit system compensates workers and tops up their income when they go on strike. This is unfair to taxpayers and creates perverse incentives.
“Striking is a choice, and in future benefit claimants will have to pay the price for that choice, as under Universal Credit, we no longer will,” he added.
Employers will be given a code to alert the authorities if any drop in wages has been caused as a result of a walkout when all welfare payments are brought under the Universal Credit system next year.
Union reaction to the proposals has been hostile. A Unite spokesman said: “This is gesture politics aimed at putting fear into vulnerable, low-paid workers to stop them from standing up for their rights against poor working conditions.”
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said: “This is petty and vindictive. Workers are always reluctant to strike, depriving their families of benefits will leave low-paid workers even more vulnerable to bad treatment.”
And the TUC’s head of economics, Nicola Smith, said most workers did not choose to go on strike “unless they feel they have no other choice”, adding that the money they lost in pay while taking part in industrial action was “far more significant than the small amounts of top-ups they get through the tax credits system”.