The CBI has called for the law to be changed, so that strikes can only go ahead if at least 40% of balloted members vote in favour of industrial action.

This mirrors a report from thinktank Policy Exchange earlier this month, which argued that the legal balance between trade unions, union members and employers no longer reflects the realities of low union membership in most sectors. It also coincides with calls this weekend from London mayor Boris Johnson.

The CBI is also calling for companies to be able to recruit agency staff to “provide essential cover” for striking workers. Currently, organisations can recruit temporary workers directly but are not able to use an agency.

John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, said: “Industrial action is never inevitable, and we want to see public sector managers and unions going the extra mile during difficult times ahead. By constructively working together, damaging industrial action can be avoided.

“The public increasingly expects it to be business as usual, even during a strike, so firms must be allowed to hire temporary workers directly from an agency to provide emergency cover for striking workers.”

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber commented: “The UK has some of the toughest legal restrictions on the right to strike in the advanced world. Already the courts regularly strike down democratic ballots that clearly show majority support for action.

“The CBI proposals are a fundamental attack on basic rights at work that are recognised in every human rights charter, and will be dismissed by any Government with a commitment to civil liberties.”