The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently called for changes to the current strike ballot regulations, which would mean that strikes would no longer be able to proceed validly on the basis of a relatively small turnout of active members.

It is already notoriously difficult to satisfy the procedural requirements for industrial action in the UK and many trade unions fall foul of the legislation (such as Unite recently in its dispute with British Airways) despite the fact that the current law has remained unchanged for a number of years now. The complexity of the current requirements often means that employers are able to obtain an injunction to prevent a strike going ahead on purely a technical breach of the requirements. There may therefore be some appetite for clearer, more defined regulations but unions are likely to complain if any more complexity is added to the existing process.

At present, only a simple majority of those voting in a strike ballot is needed in order for a strike to be deemed valid; this can result in a strike being valid when only a small percentage of the total workforce is in favour. Under the CBI’s proposal, industrial action could only validly go ahead if 40% of the workforce as a whole were in support. The CBI thinks that such an adjustment would make it easier for employers to understand the level of support behind industrial action and that, when faced with the threat of industrial action backed by over 40% of its workforce, an employer is likely to move more quickly to resolve the dispute before the strike action begins.

Legislation would be required to make any changes to the current procedural requirements. Whilst the Coalition has pledged to review employment laws, it did not make any reference to changes to the law on industrial action in its main policy document. It therefore seems unlikely that the Coalition will seek to make such changes in the short term. That said, the Coalition focus is on economic recovery and the CBI argues that the fact that a union can currently validly call a strike with the support of only a small percentage of the workforce is causing serious damage to businesses which are already struggling and should be addressed.

The CBI’s proposal will be welcomed by employers, who would most likely face fewer strike actions as a result. Trade unions, on the other hand, are likely to resist the change, protesting that it would further erode what they are commonly quoted as saying is a “right to strike”.