In the wake of the recent Tube strikes, the Government plans to introduce a Trade Union Bill to ‘democratise’ industrial action.
The Bill will introduce new thresholds to validate any such action; a 50 percent turnout of union members in all sectors will be required to back action. In the public sector, 40 percent of members will then have to vote in favour of any subsequent action (the Government is now consulting on this part of the Bill). Currently, a simple majority of those who vote can force a strike; this in practice has often meant that a minority of the workforce has been able to trigger industrial action affecting the entire workforce, raising questions about the legitimacy and representativeness of the outcome.
Furthermore, the period for which a ballot will be valid is proposed to be set at four months, meaning that any action should be given recent legitimacy. Other measures proposed in the Bill include a requirement that the ballot paper states a clear description of the trade dispute and subsequent industrial action and a reversal of the current ‘opt out’ requirement, in relation to members wishing to contribute to a union’s political funds, to an ‘opt in’ one.
The Government will also consult on repealing the ban on agencies providing workers to replace those striking and giving employers 14 days’ (rather than 7 days) notice of any industrial action. Furthermore, the Government will sound out views on how to protect non-picketing workers from intimidation during pickets and protests. The consultation will end in September 2015.
According to the Government, the Bill is aimed at improving transparency and oversight of trade unions, but has been criticised as restraining workers’ civil liberties, their right to demonstrate about issues that affect them and making legal strikes much more difficult to implement.
The Bill may be welcome news for employers as they could be given more notice of industrial action and more room to respond to such.
For more information, please contact a member of the Employment Team.