The Government has now published its controversial Trade Union Bill, which will fulfil the Conservative Party’s manifesto promise to strengthen strike laws. The Bill has been laid before Parliament and proposes a number of changes which will make it harder for employees to strike.
The changes include the introduction of a requirement for at least half of the members entitled to vote in a ballot to do so, as well as an additional threshold of 40% of support from all members eligible to vote in key sectors (such as fire, transport and energy). This is a significant shift from the current position where strike action can be authorised by a simple majority of those actually voting; meaning that strike action can currently be taken based on the views of a tiny minority of the employer’s workforce.
The Bill will also limit the period for which a ballot will be valid to authorise industrial action to four months, meaning that trade unions will no longer be able to rely on outdated ballots to justify strike action years down the line. Outside of the Bill, the Government also proposes to repeal the ban on using agency workers to cover for striking workers in the hope of making it easier for employers to cope operationally when they are affected by industrial action.
The Government has also launched three separate consultations on the main issues arising out of the proposed reforms. Employers should note that the Bill is not expected to become law until spring 2016 at the earliest and will only affect ballots taking place after the Bill comes into force. However the Government has suggested that it may lift the ban on using agency workers much sooner than that, as they already have the power to do so in the existing legislation.
While the Trade Union Bill is likely to have a limited impact on employers who do not have a unionised workforce, it will bring about welcome changes for employers in heavily unionised sectors, including manufacturing and chemicals where union membership is generally high.