Trade Union Act set to become law

8 December 2016

The new Trade Union Act is likely to be implemented in early March.

Parliament will debate, probably in January, the regulations defining the list of “important public services” which will face the most stringent new strike ballot thresholds (see below) under the Trade Union Act 2016.

This will then come into effect on 1 March, or 21 days after Parliament agrees the regulations if that happens later. The expectation is that all the new restrictions on industrial action contained in the Act will come into effect on the same date.

Here’s a brief summary of the main changes:

Balloting and picketing

• All ballots for industrial action will require not just a simple majority of those voting but a minimum turnout of 50 percent of those entitled to vote to authorise a legal strike.

• For “important public services” listed in the regulations for the Act there will be an additional threshold: 40 percent of all those eligible to vote – whether they actually vote or not – must vote yes to industrial action.

• The government has just published the list of “important public services”: this includes:

  • ambulance services
  • A&E, hospital high dependency units, intensive care, emergency hospital psychiatric services, emergency hospital obstetric and midwifery services
  • firefighters & fire control telephone operators
  • London bus workers
  • train workers
  • air traffic control workers
  • airport security
  • teachers and head teachers, (except in private schools!), 16-16-19 academy and FEs
  • Border Force staff

Note: FEs were not included in the original draft list of those affected by the 40 percent rule but have been added.

• Notice of industrial action to the employer will double from 7 to 14 days (unless the employer agrees to 7 day’s notice).

• Ballot mandates will only last for 6 months – or 9 months if the employer agrees. After that point a new ballot will be required. (The current situation where industrial action must begin within 4-8 weeks of the ballot but after which further action can be taken at any date as long as the dispute is live, will no longer apply).

• A picket supervisor must be appointed and must be identifiable and must provide contact details to the police if requested.

Check off and facility time & agency workers

The Act also contains threats to “check off” (where employers deduct union subs directly through the payroll) and union facility time.

Public sector employers (and some in private sector that provide public services) will be required to publish information about faculty time, for example, the amount of time spent on paid time off for union duties etc. However, this will need further regulations before it is introduced. The Act also allows for future regulations that limit the amount and cost of facility time for a particular employer.

Similarly pubic sector employers and some private providers of public services will only be able to make check off deductions if the worker can pay their subscriptions by other means such as direct debit and the union pays towards the employers’ costs. Implementation of this will be delayed for 12 months.

The government has not yet introduced legislation the allow employers to use agency staff to cover the work of strikers.

All this amounts to a threat to the ability of unions to hold especially large scale national strikes covering 10,000s let alone 100,000 workers such as schools or the health service. It will allow employers more time to prepare in advance of strikes to reduce their impact and will force renal lots in protracted disputes. The new statutory requirement for identifiable picket supervisors risks becoming a victimiser’s charter.

Last year the TUC ran a modest campaign against the draft Trade Union Bill which won a few concessions but the main threat to large scale strikes remains.

A number of unions, especially those in the Trade Union Co-Ordinating Group (TUCG) saw the need to do more and held a number of protests and meetings to attempt to mobilise a greater level of opposition to the Bill.

Unite the Resistance believes we need to discuss a response to both the debate of the regulations in Parliament and on the day the Act becomes law so that trade unionists are clear about the threat and to organise to our response now that the Act will be coming into force.

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