The Trade Union Act 2016 becomes law
In 2015 the government announced a series of reforms to ensure that strikes can only proceed where there has been a clear and positive democratic mandate from union members. The intention was to reduce disruption to millions of people whilst upholding the ability to strike.
On 4 May 2016 the Trade Union Bill received Royal Assent and so became the Trade Union Act.
The key element of the Act is that industrial action will be unlawful unless there has been a ballot turnout of at least 50%, although it is unknown when the rules will commence. An additional threshold of 40% of support from all eligible members will be required in important public sectors such as education, health, transport, fire and border security sectors for any action to be legal. The full detail of which public services will be deemed important has not yet been confirmed.
The government agreed, during the Parliamentary process, to commission an independent review into electronic balloting within six months.
The Act delivers key manifesto commitments and will increase transparency and improve union practices by:
- Setting a six-month “shelf life” (which can be increased to nine if the employer and union agree) for industrial action after a mandate, to make sure mandates are always recent.
- Requiring a clearer description on the ballot paper of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action so that it is clear to union members what they are voting for.
- Providing more powers to Certification Officers to ensure that new and existing rules are always followed by unions.
- Allowing new members to make an active choice of paying into political funds, but creating a transparent process for trade union subscriptions.
- Requiring that notice of any industrial action is doubled to 14 days, unless the employer agrees to seven days.
- Initially an outright ban on “check-off”, where union subscriptions are paid through wage deductions was proposed, but the Government scrapped this. Instead, the Act will ensure that that payroll deductions for trade union subscriptions are only administered where the cost is not funded by the public, in order to reduce the burden on taxpayers and ensure transparency and greater accountability relating to the use of public money for facility time.
The changes will ensure that industrial action will only ever disrupt people when it is supported by a reasonable proportion of union members, so the rights of the public will be more fairly balanced with members’ ability to strike.
The Unions are not happy about the act, seeing it as an attack on members’ right to strike. However, the government has confirmed that it will provide protection against undemocratic industrial action.