Industrial Action - a legal update

Article

24 February, 2017

Towards the end of 2016, Britain saw arguably the most notable examples of industrial action since the 1980s. Strike action and disputes over various aspects of employment regularly entered the media limelight; ranging from disputes over pay to job descriptions.

The mechanics of industrial action will change substantially with the introduction of the Trade Union Act 2016. The Act is expected to come into force in May 2017, and is set to increase restrictions on strike action, particularly strike action in areas deemed "Important Public Services" (IPS).

One of the main changes which will come into force when the Act becomes in force, is the minimum requirement that 50% of those eligible must vote in order for the ballot to be lawful. This places a higher burden on the trade unions to become more focussed in balloting. For employers, the change affords increased protection, in that a simple majority must vote on a ballot for it to be legally relied upon to invoke industrial action.

The second key change, is that the Act prescribes that of those members who work in industries deemed an IPS, 40% of the membership voting on a ballot must vote in favour of strike action in order for the union to be able to legally rely in the ballot. The government has passed five statutory instruments to accompany the Act, which determine the five industries deemed an IPS for the purposes of the new legislation. Those five are:

What remains to be seen is the effect which the new legislation will have in practice. Whilst the intention of the current government is clear from the impending enactment of the legislation, will trade unions actually suffer the effects of the restrictive nature of the Act?

Arguably, the unions could use the Act as a means to harvest increased support, which may render the government's intention as relatively futile.

The provisions of the Act could see more of an involvement of the Courts than has been seen over recent years. The legal complexity and potentially volatile nature of industrial action and union disputes highlights the need for employers within both the public and private sector to ensure they are prepared for such events, as a failure to do so may render industrial relations costly to repair.

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