Strike laws set for major changes

The government has unveiled plans for sweeping changes to the laws governing industrial action by workers.

The Trade Union Bill, published on 15 July, is designed to introduce measures including:

  • at least 50 per cent of the trade union members entitled to vote must do so in order for a ballot for industrial action to be valid
  • threshold of 40 per cent of support for industrial action from all members eligible to vote in the health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning sectors
  • a four-month time limit for industrial action following a ballot
  • an extension from seven to 14 days in the notice that must be given to an employer of industrial action after a ballot in favour
  • a clear description of the dispute and planned industrial action on ballot papers
  • greater scrutiny and control over paid time off during working hours for public sector trade union representatives to carry out union duties, known as facility time
  • introducing a requirement that trade union members must make an active choice to pay into political funds
  • updating rules around picketing
  • repealing a ban on the use of agency workers during a strike.

Describing the proposals as “sensible and fair”, Minister for Trade Unions Nick Boles said: “People have the right to expect that services on which they and their families rely are not going to be disrupted at short notice by strikes that have the support of only a small proportion of union members.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady described the Bill as “an unnecessary attack on workers’ rights and civil liberties that will shift the balance of power in the workplace.”

She added: “Getting a pay rise or defending terms and conditions will become far harder for working people. Even when ballots meet the government’s new thresholds, employers will soon be able to break strikes by bringing in agency workers. These new restrictions on facility time will make it more much difficult for trade unions to solve problems at work before they escalate into disputes.”

Palmers’ employment law specialist Lara Murray said: “The TUC is not alone in voicing fierce opposition to the Trade Union Bill and the measures it contains may evolve as it passes through parliament.

“A key step to avoiding strikes or other industrial action is to have in place clear, legally compliant employment policies, which are also regularly communicated to employees. Constructive engagement with employees also helps to reduce the likelihood of workplace disputes that can escalate into more damaging conflict.

“At Palmers, our employment law specialists can assist employers in resolving disputes constructively on an informal basis or provide expert advice to those facing industrial action, such as working to rule or a strike. For more information, please contact us.”