January 12, 2017

UK - Striking changes to Trade Union laws are on their way

The Trade Union Act 2016 was passed in May 2016 but given that 2017 started with a series of strikes affecting both the public and private sectors, many will wonder what difference the new Act has made.

The answer is that whilst the Act has been passed, not many of its provisions have been brought into force yet. 

The most significant change introduced by the Act is to increase the threshold of votes required for a valid ballot so that:

  • not just a majority of those voting, but a majority (50%) of all eligible members must vote to make industrial action valid
  • where the workers are involved in 'important public services', then in addition to the requirement that 50% of all eligible members must have voted, at least 40% of the total overall membership eligible to vote in that ballot must have voted in favour of the industrial action as well – which is a much higher hurdle.

But when will these changes start to have an impact?

Newly published draft regulations which are likely to be implemented on 1 March 2017, set out what 'important public services' will cover, including the health, fire, transport, education and border security sectors.  It seems likely that the provisions relating to general balloting rules and the reforms under the Act will also be introduced on 1 March 2017, but this is not certain.

Southern Rail commuters will be pleased to note that passenger railway services will be covered by the definition of "important public services", so that in future, it may be more difficult for railway workers to take industrial action which requires a new ballot, although in a recent ballot by one of the rail unions involved in the Southern rail strike (Aslef) 630 out of the 937 members issued with ballot papers voted in favour , which would mean that the ballot would still have been lawful even if the new, more stringent balloting rules had been in force.  In contrast, however, it would appear that the recent strikes on the London Underground might not have been able to go ahead according to various reports if the 50% minimum turnout rule had been in place.