The Trade Union Bill currently going through Parliament introduces a new 40% "important public services threshold" for industrial action. This will mean that industrial action in a range of public sectors will require the support of at least 40% of all those entitled to vote in the ballot. This is in addition to the Bill's new 50% participation threshold, which will require a turnout of at least 50% in a ballot authorising any industrial action.

The government consulted on which public services should be subject to the 40% threshold and has now published their conclusions and draft regulations. Workers in these sectors will be covered:

  • Transport – UK passenger rail services (covering drivers, conductors, security staff, maintenance, signalling and ticketing staff); London (but not other) bus services; civil air traffic control; airport and port security.
  • Border control.
  • Nuclear decommissioning – details to follow.
  • Publicly-funded emergency, urgent and critical healthcare services.  Services in private hospitals would be covered where publicly funded.
  • Firefighting, including dealing with calls.
  • Teaching and school leadership of pupils aged 5-16 in non fee-paying schools.

The issue of whether or not private sector union members are to be included has been dealt with according to the individual sectors. So, for health and education, private sector workers are included only if they are in publicly funded hospitals or schools, whereas in the other sectors, all private sector union members will be included in the threshold if they are delivering the specified services.

The original consultation (and the Bill as currently drafted) proposed that ancillary workers whose absence would have an adverse impact on the delivery of important services would also be caught.  The government has decided to drop this – only those who deliver the service will be subject to the 40% threshold.

Another issue was how do unions and employers assess when a ballot should be conducted under the 40% threshold?  Here the government has gone for the simple approach – ballots have to be run under the 40% threshold where a majority of workers involved in the dispute are carrying out one of the important public services. Guidance on which workers are captured by each of the services listed is promised.