Trade Union Act 2016: tightening up the turmoil
Industrial action has been the subject of much debate lately, with British Airways, Southern Rail and Transport for London feeling the wrath of disgruntled employees taking a stand over staffing, safety, working conditions and pay.
Such industrial action has left many of the wider public feeling aggrieved over recent months, including 300,000 commuters during the Southern Rail strikes.
The Government is seeking to introduce the Trade Union Act 2016 (the “Act”). Although not yet in force, the Act will introduce a number of significant changes, including new balloting rules (which require a 50% threshold for voting) and additional 40% support threshold which will apply to “important public services.” Such steps may limit industrial action in many cases.
What constituted “important public services” was not initially clear, however, the Government has now published draft regulations (the “Regulations”). Under the Regulations, “important public services” are limited to health services, education for those under age 17, fire services, transport services, decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and border security. The Government will produce further clarification as to which workers fall within the “important public services” in due course.
The Act also introduces new requirements for the type of information that must be included in ballot papers, information that must be given to union members, the employer and the certification officer about the result of the ballot. In the event that unions fail to comply with the stringent provisions under the Regulations, employers will be able to seek an injunction to prevent the action going ahead and/or seek damages. To ensure further protection is afforded to employers, the Government has also published a “Code of Practice: Industrial action ballots and notice to employers” which provides guidance to unions and employers on the statutory balloting and notification requirements. The code awaits parliamentary approval, but may well come into force mid to late January 2017. Likewise, the Regulations also require parliamentary approval and if approved will come into force on 1 March 2017. If not approved by Parliament then, the Regulations will come into force 21 days later.
The Government has also commissioned the “Knight Review” which will examine the possible risks of electronic balloting. Such risks include hacking and fraud, alongside the potential impact on cases of intimidation for union members. If electronic voting is introduced, union members would be able to vote online which would be easier and increase numbers to provide a true reflection of union members in favour of industrial action.
For more information, please contact our employment team on 0345 070 6000.