Trade Union Bill and Consultations Published
The Government has published its Trade Union Bill which will reform the law relating to industrial action and picketing. Alongside this it has issued three consultations, with responses required by 9 September 2015.
Industrial action ballots
The Bill’s provisions on industrial action ballots:
- introduce a 50% voting threshold for union ballot turnouts, meaning that 50% of workers must vote, otherwise the ballot will not be valid. This is in addition to the current requirement that there must be a simple majority of votes in favour of industrial action;
- introduce a further requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of industrial action in certain essential public services – health, primary and secondary education, fire services, transport, border security, nuclear decommissioning and radioactive waste disposal. The Government has launched a consultation, Ballot thresholds in important public services, seeking views on which roles within these sectors should be subject to the new balloting threshold;
- require ballot papers to be reasonably detailed about the matters in issue in the trade dispute, to specify what type of industrial action is proposed (where a strike is not proposed) and to indicate the periods within which the industrial action is expected to take place;
- introduce a ban on continuing industrial action more than four months after the ballot;
- double (from 7 to 14 days) the notice unions must give to employers of industrial action; and
- require unions to provide additional information to members when informing them of the ballot result, including the number of individuals entitled to vote, whether 50% of those entitled to vote did so, and in cases where the additional threshold applies in public services, whether at least 40% of those entitled to vote voted in favour of industrial action.
The Bill also imposes additional requirements for unions to supervise picketing, along the lines of those which are already recommended in the Code of Practice on Picketing. Failure to comply with these provisions will mean that the picketing will be unlawful and the union will be liable in tort. These include a requirement for the union to appoint a ballot supervisor familiar with codes of practice on picketing and to take reasonable steps to inform the police of the supervisor’s name and contact details and where and when picketing will take place. The supervisor will also have to be present at the picketing (or readily contactable and able to attend at short notice) and wear a badge, armband or something which can identify them.
The Government has also launched a Consultation on tackling intimidation of non-striking workers which includes questions on whether there should be a new criminal offence of intimidation on the picket line, whether other parts of the Code of Practice on Picketing should be included in the Bill, whether unions should be required to publish their plans for picketing and protests every time industrial action is called and how the Code of Practice could be updated and potentially broadened to deal with the rights of employers, local communities, businesses and non-striking workers to carry out normal activities during industrial action.
Using agency staff during industrial action
The Government’s third consultation, Hiring agency staff during strike action: reforming regulation, seeks views on its proposal to repeal laws which currently ban employment businesses from providing employers with agency workers to cover for striking workers.
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