The Government is to introduce a Trade Union Bill to make what has been described as the biggest change to trade union law since the 1980s. 

Arguably the most important proposed change, from an employment law point of view, will be a requirement of a 50% turnout threshold for there to be a valid ballot on industrial action. In addition to the 50% threshold, the Bill also introduces an additional threshold of 40% support from all trade union members eligible to vote in order to take industrial action in key sectors such as health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning sectors.  There is currently no minimum turnout threshold for a ballot and a simple majority of those members who vote will suffice for a valid ballot.

The Bill also introduces a number of other proposed changes, including:

  • Providing a four month time-limit during which a ballot will remain valid to authorise industrial action. As the law stands a ballot in support of industrial action remains effective for a period of four weeks from the date of the ballot (eight weeks if agreed between the trade union and employer). However, providing industrial action is started within this period it can be suspended and restarted indefinitely providing it is the same industrial action.
  • A requirement that the ballot paper contain a ‘clear description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action … so that all union members are clear what they are voting for’.
  • A requirement that union members who wish to contribute to a trade union’s political fund ‘opt in’ instead of the current ‘opt out’ procedure. Politically this is perhaps the most significant change introduced by the Bill as it is expected to have a detrimental impact on Labour Party funding.

The Bill has not yet been published but BIS have released a press statement which can be found here.

In its press release the Government have announced that it will consult on repeal of the ban on the use of agency workers during industrial action. It is currently a criminal offence for an employment business to provide agency workers to perform striking workers duties. If repealed this would have a significant impact on how employers manage their business during a strike.

The Government have also announced a consultation on the proposed 40% support threshold and reform of the rules and code of practice on picketing and protest linked to industrial action. The consultation opens on 15 July and closes on 9 September 2015.

The reforms will be welcomed by employers and business groups. However, the Government can expect strong opposition from trade unions.