The Trade Union Bill
KeyProposals:Increase ballot thresholds for lawfully taking industrial actionTime limits for strike mandatesAllowing Employers to hire agency workers during strike actionUnion supervision of picketingInformation to the Certification Officer about industrial actionThe requirement of public sector employers to publish information on the facility time of trade unionrepresentativesCurrent status of the Trade Union Bill:The Bill passed its first reading and is now at Committee stage
Ballot Thresholds for taking industrial action-
TheGovernment’s proposals are to:Require a 50% turnout from those entitled to vote in theballotIn ‘important’ public services a 40% majority of those voting is required for industrial action to lawfully take place
Under these proposals a worker abstaining is considered to be voting ‘no’ to taking industrial actionThe Government refuses to compromise by allowing electronic ballotingTeachers will be considered to be providing ‘important’ public services and therefore subject to the higher turnoutrequirementAtwo tier workforce? It will be more difficult for teachers to exercise their right to take industrial action. This may be contrary to the UK’s treaty obligations under the UN’s ILO Convention and European Social Chapter, which requires public sector workers to be given the same political and civil rights as other workersWhatwill the impact be on a profession mostly made up of women? The Government has not carried out an equality impact assessment yet. This is despite the fact that the Bill is going through Parliament
Time limits for strike mandates
Regardless of whether strike action is continuous or discontinuous trade unions will need to re-ballot members after four monthsIssues arising:This will be a considerable burden on trade unions who have balloted to take industrial action over the course of the year, and no attempt has been made by the employer to resolve the issues or if talks break down
Allowingemployers to hire agency workers to replace workers taking industrial action-
Current legislation:Under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Business Regulations 2003 it is unlawful for an employment agency to supply agency workers to cover the work of those taking industrial action. This provision has been on the statute books since 1973.The Government’s Proposals:Regulation 7 of the Employment Agencies Regulations will be amended to allow employers to hire agency workers to cover the work of workers taking industrial action
Issues arising:Will supply teachers be required to cross a picket line?Will those refusing to cross a picket line suffer victimisation by agencies refusing to offer them any work in the future or schools unwilling to hire them? There is no mention of this issue in the Bill or amended RegulationsThe proposal may cause distrust between an employer and workers when they should be trying to resolve a workplace dispute. It is divisive and undermines good industrial relations.Is it workable? Are there enough qualified supply teachers to cover the work of those teachers taking industrial action?Do employment agencies want to get dragged into an industrial dispute by providing workers during a strike? Large employment agencies across the European Union have signed agreements with trade unions not to supply workers during industrial action. There is a reason for this, to promote good industrial relations.
Union supervision of picketing-
Currentlegislation:Code of Practice for workers on a picket line, for example, 6 employees on a picket line at any given time.Civil and criminal laws to protect non-striking staff and employers from intimidation.The Government’s proposals are:Require a trade union official to act as a picket supervisor. He/she must be clearly identifiable by wearing an armband.Thepicket supervisor must carry a letter of authorisation.The police or any third party can ‘reasonably’ ask to see the letter of authorisation.14 days prior to the picket the employer must be informed of the number and identity of those attending the picket, and whether they will be using banners and loud hailers.Trade unions will be required to disclose their plans for the use of social media in relation to industrial action
Penalties:Failure to comply with the above may result in a fine up to £20,000 (enforced by the Certification Officer) against the trade union involved in the industrial action, or an employer applying for a High Court Injunction to stop a trade union taking industrial action.Issuesarising:Will the Government protect the picket supervisor or members identified as attending the picket line from victimisation or blacklisting? The Government has not addressed this issue at all.What if there is a technical breach of the provisions? Will the union still have to pay up to a fine of £20,000 or get involved in expensive injunctive relief litigation against an employer who has much deeper pockets?The provisions have been widely criticised as potentially breaching workers’ rights to the freedom of assembly and freedom of association under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Conservative MP, David Davies, described the provisions as ‘something from Franco’s Spain’Will the police wish to get dragged into an industrial dispute? Is it a good use of police resources to enforce technical breaches such as a failure to produce a letter of authorisation?Is there a risk of stirring up trouble or antagonising people if the police or anyone else demands to see the letter of authorisation? What if it’s a third party trying to antagonise the picket line?
Information to the Certification Officer about industrial action-
Currentlegislation:The Certification Officer is the regulator for trade unions and employer groups.The Government’s proposals-Trade unions will need to report on industrial action it has taken, details of ballots, campaigns using social media and any injunctions taken against it.Ensure trade union officers are trained on the new provisionsThe Certification Officer will have powers to increase the levy it charges to trade unions for funding its workImpose fines on trade unions for failing to comply with the provisions of the Bill
Issues arising:This will result in a significant financial and administrative burden for trade unions having to comply with the new provisionsWhy is the Government seeking to tangle trade unions in red tape? The information required to be reported will already be in the public domain, such as court cases/injunctions or campaigns on social media.The Certification Officer is likely to significantly raise the levy to cover all the extra duties/powers it now has under the Bill. The Government expects trade unions to foot the bill.
The requirement of public sector employers to publish information on the facility time of trade union representatives
TheGovernment’s proposals-Public sector employers, including employers who carry out public functions such as academy schools, will be required to publish details about:how many employees are on facility timehow much time is spent on facility timethe total pay bill for those on facility timewhat duties are undertaken during facility timeThe facilities provided by a public sector employer for those on facilitytime
Issues arising:The Government reserves the power to introduce secondary legislation requiring public sector employers to amend the pay bill, time and facilities provided to for those on facility time.This is designed to try and turn public opinion against trade unions, ‘why is the tax payer paying for trade unions to carry out their work’.Who will this benefit? If facility time is reduced/removed who will represent employees at disciplinary and grievance hearings? Who will negotiate with the employer in relation to collective bargaining matters?The provisions are likely to erode the rights of employees to trade union representation.Employers may not welcome these provisions as it will make managing industrial relations more difficult.Employers may use this as an opportunity to renegotiate facility time for trade union activities, as well as duties.