The Trade Union Act 2016 was passed in May 2016 but given that 2017 started with a series of strikes affecting both the public and private sectors, many will wonder what difference the new Act has made.

The answer is that whilst the Act has been passed, not many of its provisions have been brought into force yet.

The most significant change introduced by the Act is to increase the threshold of votes required for a valid ballot so that:

  • not just a majority of those voting, but a majority (50%) of all eligible members must vote to make industrial action valid
  • where the workers are involved in 'important public services', then in addition to the requirement that 50% of all eligible members must have voted, at least 40% of the total overall membership eligible to vote in that ballot must have voted in favour of the industrial action as well – which is a much higher hurdle.

But when will these changes start to have an impact?

Newly published draft regulations which are likely to be implemented on 1 March 2017, set out what 'important public services' will cover, including the health, fire, transport, education and border security sectors.

Southern Rail commuters will be pleased to note that passenger railway services will be covered by the definition of "important public services", so that in future, it may be more difficult for railway workers to take industrial action which requires a new ballot.