The Trade Union Act 2016
Thursday 12th May 2016
The Trade Union Act 2016 recently received Royal Assent and when implemented will introduce a number of significant changes affecting industrial action and trade unions.
Ballots and strike action
Currently a ballot proposing strike action only requires a simple majority of those voting. In one of the most significant changes, 50% voter turnout will be required in order for a union ballot proposing industrial action to be valid. There will be an additional hurdle for ballots involving certain key public services (such as health, education, fire, transport, nuclear decommissioning and border security), which will require the support of at least 40% of those eligible to vote. Some private employers providing public services will also be affected. Secondary legislation will set out the detailed provisions.
Ballot papers will need to include a clear and detailed description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action with a view to ensuring voters are properly informed.
Following a ballot, there will be a new 6 month time limit (or 9 months if the union and employer agree) for industrial action, after which the ballot mandate will expire. Currently industrial action must begin within 4 weeks of the ballot (employers may agree to extend this period up to 8 weeks) but may continue indefinitely provided the dispute continues to be active. In addition, unions will be required to provide 14 days’ notice of any strike unless the employee agrees to 7 days’ notice.
The Government is required under the Act to conduct an independent review into the possibility of introducing electronic balloting for strike ballots.
The Act does not deal with the repeal of the ban on using agency workers as stand-ins for those on strike which was announced last year. While legislation is expected, the timetable remains unclear.
The Government had sought to abolish the check-off system under which union membership subscriptions are deducted via the payroll. However, after unions objected, fearing removal of the scheme would reduce funds and therefore impact the services and protections they provide, check-off will continue.
However, public sector employers, and some private employers providing public services, will only be able to use check-off if the union shares the cost of its administration and other options for payment are made available. These employers will also be required to publish information on the cost of “facility time” – paid time off afforded to union employees to carry out union duties. Secondary legislation will set out further details and it is possible that a power will be introduced permitting the Government to impose limits on facility time.
Additionally, new union members will now be asked if they wish to contribute to a union’s political fund (used to make politically motivated donations) with information on opting-out of such contributions to be provided to them annually.
The Certification Officer, who is responsible for maintaining information on unions, certifying their independence and ensuring compliance, has new powers to investigate and take enforcement action if a union acts in breach of its statutory duties.
The Act gives statutory force to some requirements of the Code of Practice on Picketing, such as appointing a picket supervisor.
A commencement date has not yet been determined and we will provide further updates when the Government announces the implementation timetable.
All information in this update is intended for general guidance only and is not intended to be comprehensive, or to provide legal advice.