InsightsInsight - Commercial Law - POSTED: October 27 2015
Trade Union Bill proposes significant changes to industrial action
The Trade Union Bill proposes to make extensive changes to the law on industrial action. What changes will this bring and how will it affect your business if it becomes law?
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The key changes proposed include increasing ballot thresholds, extending the notice required for strike action and the introduction of an expiry date on a ballot approving industrial action. The Bill is now scheduled to be considered by a Public Bill Committee until 27 October 2015.
A trade union is an association of workers which aims to protect the rights, interests and working conditions of its members. Its main purpose is to try and regulate the relationship between employees and their employers.
There is no legal definition of “industrial action”, but as a general concept, any concerted action which is taken in order to put pressure on an employer is capable of being industrial action. There is no general right to take industrial action under UK law. In most cases, employees taking industrial action will be acting unlawfully since by doing so, they will be acting in breach of their contracts of employment and a trade union that calls/encourages action will, therefore, be inducing the employee to breach their employment contract. However, current legislation states that so long as certain statutory conditions are met, employers are unable to dismiss employees for taking industrial action and they are not able to sue trade unions for inducement.
As a summary, employees and trade unions will be protected when taking industrial action, if the following conditions are met:
- The industrial action must be “in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute”
- The action must be supported by a ballot
- The ballot itself must follow specified procedural requirements
- The action must be lawfully called
- The union must notify the employer of its intention to take action
- The action must take place within a specified period after the ballot
Trade Union law featured heavily during the General Election and now the Government has proposed the new “Trade Union Bill” to reform the regulation of trade union activity, in particular in relation to strike action.
The New Proposals
A new 50% turnout threshold
Currently, a valid ballot is where a majority of members have voted in the ballot. The new proposal will require at least 50% of all eligible members to have voted on the ballot. For public services, there is a further requirement that the members voting in favour must represent 40% of members eligible to vote.
Information on voting papers
The voting papers are to specify the issues in dispute, any other type of industrial action proposed and the planned dates of any industrial action. Unions are also to provide more detailed information to members about ballot results, including how many members voted for and against strike action, and whether the number of members that voted reached the 50% required of those entitled to vote.
Increasing the notice to be given
Unions are to give to employers 14 days’ notice of industrial action (as opposed to the current 7 day notice requirement).
A new four-month time limit for industrial action
The introduction of a four month limit after a ballot in which strike action must take place.
There will be a requirement for Unions to supervise picketing and for other provisions in the picketing code to become legally binding.
How will this affect your business?
The Government are claiming that the aim of these proposals is to establish a fair balance between employers and employees. If passed, this may be good news for employers as there are more legal barriers that the employee and the Unions will need to overcome before they can lawfully take industrial action. As you can imagine, however, the Unions view this very differently and feel that this may make industrial action almost impossible. Head of Unison and Wales TUC Margaret Thomas reveals has been reported as saying that this may even lead to civil unrest if it is passed.
What will happen next?
We will need to see! The Bill received a second reading in the House of Commons on 14 September 2015, and has been considered by a Public Bill Committee, which was due to complete its deliberations by 27 October 2015.
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