On 15 July 2015 the Government published the Trade Union Bill 2015 to make good on its manifesto pledge to significantly tighten up the legislation governing trade unions and in particular the rules around strike action.

The main elements of the Bill are as follows:

  • A higher “turn-out threshold” of 50% for strike ballots meaning that at least half of those entitled to vote do so whilst retaining the current requirement for there to be a simple majority of votes in favour of the strike action balloted
  • In addition to the 50% “turn-out threshold”, for strike action in essential public services (health, education, fire and transport), 40% of those entitled to vote must actually vote in favour of industrial action. What amounts to “essential public services” is subject to Government consultation
  • Tackling the intimidation of non-striking workers during a strike through the introduction of a picketing supervisor
  • Tightening the rules around “facility time” for union representatives
  • Any future industrial action to take place within four months of a ballot, together with a new requirement for the ballot paper to contain a clear description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action - this will make it difficult for unions holding a single ballot to authorise a series of strikes
  • Increasing from 7 to 14 days the notice unions must give to employers to take industrial action allowing employers greater time to prepare and make contingency arrangements
  • Explicit opt-in approval from union members to pay into political funds
  • A possible repeal of the current ban on employers from hiring agency workers to cover striking employees

The Bill has predictably provoked criticism from the unions. Unite, which has significant membership within airlines (the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) is a branch of Unite), has changed its constitutional rule book to remove the requirement that it will only support lawful strike action. Immunity from legal action against unions only applies to lawful strike action so it is probably a case of this being symbolic rather than opening a new wave of industrial unrest and wildcat strikes. A loss of legal immunity through union support of unlawful strike action would have catastrophic financial consequences with employers able to sue unions for losses. Likewise if there is a breach of the “picketing supervisor’s” obligations this too will lead to a loss of immunity from suit.

The Bill is expected to become law by around the end of the year.