Welcome to our December UK labour law update. This edition contains the following content:

UK labour law news

  • The latest news on the Trade Union Bill
  • Government decides against further legislation to tackle the intimidation of non-striking workers
  • A new willingness to prosecute redundancy notification failures
  • The GMB elects a new General Secretary
  • Modern slavery statements: March 2016 commencement

UK labour case law update

  • Morrissey v University of London: CAC rejects employer’s attempt to control the setting-up of a new ICE forum

UK labour law news

The latest news on the Trade Union Bill

The Trade Union Bill has been considered by the House of Commons and is beginning its passage through the House of Lords with the first major debate scheduled for 11 January 2016. The Bill survived the Commons largely unchanged except for the previously announced new provision prohibiting the deduction of union subscriptions from wages (‘check-off’) in the public sector. During parliamentary debate the Government promised to give trade unions a twelve month period before implementing the check-off prohibition, to provide time to transfer members to a direct debit arrangement. An Opposition amendment to provide for electronic balloting in the Bill was defeated, due to reported Government concerns over security. For information on the Bill’s provisions, read our briefing.

There are ongoing attempts to exclude the application of the Bill to Wales and Scotland or to require local consent before the facility time, check-off and 40% important public service threshold provisions could apply to devolved services in those countries. These moves reflect general opposition to the Bill from the Welsh and Scottish Governments. The UK Government is resisting on the grounds that employment and industrial relations law are reserved matters under the Scottish and Welsh devolution settlements and do not require the consent of the devolved Governments or any local authorities. Expect to hear more of this in the New Year, together with attempts by the House of Lords to reject parts of the Bill. Neither appear likely to succeed, although some change should be anticipated as part of parliamentary negotiation tactics and the Lords could delay the Bill if both Houses ultimately fail to reach agreement.

Government decides against further legislation to tackle the intimidation of non-striking workers

As part of its package of industrial action reform proposals the Government consulted on tackling intimidation of non-striking workers. The response to the consultation has been published and confirms that no further legislative action will be taken. Instead, the Code of Practice on Picketing will be updated to set out the rights and responsibilities of parties involved in, or affected by, industrial disputes, including the use of social media and protests linked to industrial disputes. The Government has dropped its proposal for unions to publish their plans, including social media campaign plans, on intended action during industrial disputes.

A new willingness to prosecute redundancy notification failures 

There is clear evidence that the Insolvency Service is increasingly proactive in pursuing organisations, their senior personnel and insolvency practitioners who fail to file the requisite redundancy notification form (HR1) on time. Attention will turn next year to the prosecution of the Chief Executive of Sports Direct over an alleged failure to comply with redundancy notification procedures in relation to a subsidiary.

BIS issued a call for evidence on collective redundancy consultation for employers facing insolvency earlier in the year and recently published its report. This confirms a consensus amongst many respondents that there is a conflict between employment law and the rescue culture. BIS disagrees and wants to see meaningful consultation carried out and redundancies notified where there are insolvencies or near insolvencies. It is considering how to improve the situation, including whether to increase the effectiveness of sanctions for non-compliance. Read our briefing.

The GMB elects a new General Secretary

Tim Roache has been elected to become the new General Secretary of the GMB union. Currently secretary of the union's Yorkshire region, he won 56.7% of the vote on a low turnout. Current General Secretary Sir Paul Kenny announced in the summer he was standing down after a decade in the job. Seen as more left-wing than Sir Kenny, Mr Roache is reported to have organised the 12-week strike by Leeds refuse collectors over pay in 2009.

Modern slavery statements

Organisations with a £36m+ turnover, carrying out business in the UK (wherever incorporated) and supplying goods and services, must publish a modern slavery and trafficking statement where their year-end falls after 30 March 2016. In our experience, HR are increasingly getting involved in risk assessments, putting in place policies and training and other due diligence measures in response to this new duty and to broader human rights pressures, particularly where trade unions are involved. Campaign groups are expected to monitor compliance and the UK’s new Anti-Slavery Commissioner has threatened to name and shame companies dragging their heels - with associated reputational risks. For further information and guidance, see here and here. Register to attend our free webinar on modern slavery reporting, 2pm on 26 January, by emailing abbeyduckett@eversheds.com

UK labour case law update

Morrissey v University of London: information and consultation forums

The Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) has rejected an employer’s attempt to control the setting-up of a new information and consultation (ICE) arrangement by attempting to form a forum with its recognised unions, excluding a rival non-recognised union. The CAC noted that the ICE Regulations are specifically intended to facilitate information and consultation in respect of all employees in an undertaking, not just unionised employees. In this instance, only a minority of the workforce were members of the two recognised unions and it was unacceptable to expect employees to vote yes or no to four union candidates without putting in place arrangements which allowed for alternative candidates to be put forward.