The Trade Union Act 2016 - What will the impact really be?
The key changes will be
- Under the current provisions, a strike ballot requires the support of a simple majority of those voting. The Act has set this threshold higher, requiring a minimum voter turnout of 50% of those entitled to vote, and an additional minimum support threshold of 40% in certain key public services (including health, fire, education and transport).
- The 40% threshold is triggered where the majority of workers are normally engaged in the public service, and does not cover ancillary workers, but further regulations will flesh out the detail of this.
- Additional information needs to be included in the ballot paper to ensure it is clear to all those eligible to vote, exactly what they are voting for.
- Currently industrial action must take place within four to eight weeks of the ballot and action can be taken indefinitely if the dispute remains live. This has been repealed and the ballot mandate will now expire after 6 months, or 9 months if both sides agree.
- The ban on using agency workers during strikes has, however, remained. A change to this provision would have had significant implications for the effectiveness of strike action.
The unions made some dents in the Government’s original plans, but the balloting thresholds have remained. This may however have unintended consequences from the Governments perspective. Unions will need to actively promote the need for higher ballot turnout, potentially resulting in increased union membership and engagement. It may simply be that some ballots were not well supported because workers knew that the ballot would pass without their support – when this is threatened, turnout may well increase.
If, however, this is not how things develop and there is a significant decrease in the number of successful ballots, then this may be subject to a challenge in the European Court of Human Rights as an infringement on the right to strike.
There is no implementation date as yet for these provisions, although it is anticipated that there will be a phased introduction in 2017. It is clear however that whatever direction the Act takes industrial action in the UK, it is unlikely that the introduction of these new provisions will be a quiet affair.
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