The new Trade Union Bill makes a number of well-publicised changes to the pre-conditions for lawful industrial action to be taken:
- 50% turnout. Currently, in order to take industrial action, a trade union must ballot all members affected by the dispute. A union requires a simple majority (over 50%) of the votes cast to be in favour for the ballot to lead to action. The new minimum 50% participation rule means that at least half of those balloted need to cast a vote before it is valid. If the ballot is valid, then, as now, a simple majority would need to vote in favour in order for the ballot to mandate industrial action, subject to special rules for key sectors mentioned below. If the balloting rules are not followed correctly then, as now, the employer could apply to the Court for an injunction preventing the industrial action from taking place.
- 40% support in key sectors. In addition to the 50% turnout rule, for industrial action in six key service sectors (health, education, fire, transport, energy, and border security), 40% of all eligible voters must vote in favour of industrial action. The government is consulting on which employees within the key sectors should be subject to the 40% support rule.
- Four month limit on mandates. There will be a four month limit on a mandate for industrial action, after which another ballot will be required. This will not apply to ballots taking place before the new Act comes into force.
- Ballot paper wording. At present, the ballot paper need only ask members which type of action they want to take part in – strike action or action "short of a strike". In future the ballot paper will have to set out the detailed nature of the issues in dispute; the types of action short of a strike and an indication of time periods for action.
- Two weeks' notice to employers. The amount of notice of industrial action to be given to an employer will be increased from 7 to 14 days.
- Union supervision of picketing. There will be additional requirements for picketing, including the appointment of a picketing supervisor, plus consultation on possible further restrictions in this area.
In addition, as promised, the government is consulting on lifting the current ban, contained in regulations covering the recruitment sector, on using agency staff to cover striking workers.