In July, the Government launched its Trade Union Bill designed to toughen up existing laws on strike action. If the bill is passed into law it will represent the most significant change to rules on industrial action in the past 30 years.
The main changes being proposed are as follows:
- A threshold of 50% turnout in strike ballots
- A four-month time limit for industrial action to ensure that mandates are recent
- A clear description of the dispute and planned action on the ballot paper, so union members know what they are voting for
- Repealing the ban on the use of agency workers to cover for those on strike
There is also an additional requirement placed on those working in the health, education, fire, transport, border security and energy sectors. Not only must 50% of members vote but at least 40% of all members balloted must approve strike action.
Although the proposed legislation has on the whole been welcomed by business groups, it has provoked anger among many trade unions. Indeed members of Britain’s biggest union, Unite, recently voted in favour of removing a clause in its rules requiring members to stay within the law when staging protests. Removing the clause “so far as may be lawful” from its rules governing members’ actions will pave the way for potentially unlawful strikes.
For many companies, the benefits of this new legislation will be greater transparency. Management will usually be aware of a dispute as they are likely to have had meetings with the unions. However, the new requirement for a clear description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action will ensure that those ‘on the ground’ are clear about what they are voting for.
In addition, the new proposals require that notice of a strike should be extended to 14 days.
Unions are currently obliged to give at least 7 days’ notice of a ballot and 7 days’ notice before the first day of a planned strike. This ties in with the new provision to allow employers to use agency staff during strikes, as the extra notice would allow agency staff to be called in and trained ahead of any action.
Do you have a view? The first consultations on the Bill have opened and will close on 9 September 2015 register your view on https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/trade-union-bill