On 4 May 2016, the Trade Union Bill received Royal Assent and became the Trade Union Act. The Bill had been widely criticised since its announcement last year and the union, Unite, has now described its approval as an act of parliament as a "dark day" for workers in England.

It is not yet clear when the new rules will come into effect but, once implemented, industrial action will only be lawful where there has been at least 50% turnout in votes for industrial action. In certain "important public services" an additional threshold of 40% of support to take industrial action from all eligible members must be met for action to be legal. We are still awaiting full details on which public services will be deemed "important" but expect that this will include health, education, transport, border security and fire sectors, amongst others.

The Act will also:

  • set a six-month time limit (which can be increased to nine months if the union and employer agree) for industrial action after a mandate;
  • require clearer descriptions of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action on the ballot paper;
  • create a transparent process for trade union subscriptions that allows new members to make an active choice of paying into political funds; and
  • ensure that payroll deductions for trade union subscriptions are only administered where the cost is not funded by the public.

The Bill's journey through Parliament has not been a smooth one and a number of concessions have been made. For example, the proposed ban on "check-off", where union subscriptions are paid through wage deductions in the public sector, has been scrapped. In addition, the proposal to repeal the ban on employers hiring agency workers to cover for employees taking part in industrial action has not been included.