Home Legal & Insurance Major changes taking place to trade union laws

Major changes taking place to trade union laws

Lately, it appears that a week doesn’t go by without news of more strike action taking place across the country, from junior doctors to train drivers to airline pilots. The government introduced major changes to strike laws through the Trade Union Act 2016 but, up to now, the changes contained in this law were waiting to be brought in to effect. From 1 March 2017, the important provisions will come in to force. Here are some of the major changes:

Minimum ballot turnout requirement

Going forward, in order for strike action to be lawful, the ballot calling for industrial action will need at least 50% of those entitled to vote to actually vote. This will reduce strikes taking place where there isn’t a clear mandate from union members.

Minimum support requirement for important public services

In addition to the turnout requirement, strikes in important public services will require at least 40% of those entitled to vote to vote in favour of the action. This change ensures that action which has a significant impact on public services will only be lawful if there is substantial support from union members.

Important public services, those requiring the 40% support threshold, have now been defined in separate regulations. These include:

• Medical services;
• Transportation services;
• Education;
• Border security; and
• Firefighting services.

Minimum notice requirement

From March, employers need to be given a minimum of two weeks’ notice of industrial action taking place, unless they agree to 7 days’ notice with the union. The increase in notice will allow employers to take pre-emptive action to reduce the disruption to their business, such as shuffling the order book, speaking to customers to explain the situation and taking on fixed term staff to cover staff shortages.

Time limit for action starting

After a successful vote for industrial action, strikes will only be able to take place within six months of the date of the ballot. This can be extended to nine months if agreed by the employer.

This provision will limit the possibility of industrial action being called on the back of a historic vote. What this does not prevent, however, is a fresh ballot being held every six months to ensure lawful strike action can go ahead.

What do these changes mean for you?

The introduction of these changes is likely to reduce the number of strikes that take place going forward as unions will have to ensure that they can meet the ballot turnout and support thresholds before carrying out lawful industrial action This will have a positive knock on effect with issues such as staff lateness and absenteeism. On the other hand, these changes will not reduce the possibility of unofficial strike action as these do not follow legal requirements. Unofficial strike action can cover matters such as unofficial overtime bans and high levels of sickness absenteeism.