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Posted 15 April 2013
by Martin Laver

The Thatcher Legacy

Whatever your political views, Mrs Thatcher and her government changed the face of UK employment law forever and principally in the context of the union movement.

One statistic produced suggested that 29 millions days were lost to industrial action in 1979, during the Winter of Discontent.  By the end of Mrs Thatcher’s administration in 1990 less than 2 million days were lost and that figure has fallen ever since.

Mrs Thatcher believed the unions were too powerful and the labour market too inflexible to cope with the changing face of national and world economics.  The Thatcher government therefore changed the union laws in 1980 to restrict the operation of “closed shops” and “secondary action” whereby sympathetic unions could strike in support of another union.

In 1982, “closed shops” were restricted even further, there was a curb on compensation for dismissals relating to union action and a significant change allowing legal action to be taken against unions’ funds in the event of unlawful strikes.

In 1984 further legislation which required that each union undertake a secret ballot of its members before it could begin strike action.  This proved costly to the National Union of Miners, led by Arthur Scargill, who failed to ballot its members before calling a strike in March 1984 leading to substantial fines and claims in damages against the union, whose funds were later frozen.

Mrs Thatcher’s time in government brought employment relations to the forefront.  In the decades that followed from her administration, the law has been radically overhauled and the individual workers rights increased dramatically in areas such as minimum wage, discrimination and flexible working.  Mrs Thatcher may not have approved of these developments but her own contribution to employment law is undeniable.

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About the author

Martin Laver

Partner

Partner in the commercial litigation team specialising in disputed trusts and Wills