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Trade Union Act 2016

The much anticipated and highly controversial Trade Union Act 2016 came fully into force on 1st March 2017. Some of the provisions of the Act were already in place. During passage through Parliament, the initial Trade Union Bill was revised following intense criticism by opposing MPs, Peers and especially the Trade Union movement. The Government made a number of concessions such as abandoning its initial plan to have a ban on check-off in the public sector. The role of the Certification Officer (a type of Regulator for Trade Unions) was also revised.

What are the main changes?

  • One of the most substantial changes (and one of the most controversial) was changes to the way that industrial action is balloted. The Act requires minimum thresholds for a ballot to be valid. Section 2 of the 2016 Act requires that at least 50% of those entitled to vote did so. There is a further requirement in Section 3 that at least 40% in ‘important public services’ voted in favour of the action. So, for public service strike action, there will be an even greater threshold to meet.
  • When members are balloted about the strike, the Trade Union must provide more information to its members about the nature of the dispute. The Trade Union must also set out the time periods in which the expected action is due to take place.
  • The amount of notice that is given to employers has increased from seven days to fourteen days.
  • The previous position was that industrial action must take place between four and eight weeks of the ballot. The action could continue indefinitely as long as the dispute was still ‘live’. This has now changed and the mandate to carryout industrial action will expire after six months. This can be extended to nine months if both parties agree although the likelihood of an employer agreeing to this would, on the face of it, appear unlikely.
  • Some aspects of the Code of Practice on Picketing become legally enforceable. This includes the requirement to appoint a designated picketing supervisor who must be easily identifiable at the picket line.

While strikes on the scale of the Miners’ Strike of the mid 1980’s are unlikely to occur in the near future, there have been large scale industrial disputes in recent years that have led to strike action. Recent examples include doctors going on strike following the proposed introduction of a new contract of employment as well as the ongoing dispute on the railways over the role of the conductor and who operates the doors. Talks regarding the latter dispute are ongoing with further industrial action not being ruled out.

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