The Trade Union Act was passed back in May 2016 and came into force on 1 March this year. The Act increases ballot thresholds, introduces new information and timing requirements in relation to industrial action and imposes legal requirements on Trade Unions for the supervision of picketing.
So why is the new Act so important?
Currently, a strike or other industrial action will be unlawful unless at least 50% of trade union members who responded to the ballot voted in favour of the action. However, from 1 March 2017 industrial action will be lawful only when:
– At least 50% of members are in favour of the action; and
– At least 50% of all eligible members actually vote.
The even better news for education is that the new Act imposes a further requirement for certain ‘important public services’ (which includes education!) that in addition to the requirement that at least 50% of all eligible members must have voted, at least 40% of those entitled to vote must have voted in favour of the action.
Other important changes which came into force on 1st March 2017 include:
· A six-month time limit – Currently, provided that industrial action is started within four weeks of the ballot there is nothing to prevent a union from suspending and restarting action in reliance on the original ballot, provided that is the same industrial action. There is no fixed end point by which action ceases to be supported by the original ballot. However, the new Act sets a 6-month time limit (which can be increased to 9 months if the union and employer agree) for industrial action so that mandates are always recent
· Notice of the industrial action will be increased from 7 days to 14 days.
· A clearer description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action must be provided on the ballot paper, so that all union members are clear what they are voting for
· The Union must take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure that every relevant employer is given the following information:
a) Votes cast in the ballot.
b) Individuals who voted “yes” to the question (or, as the case may be, to each question).
c) Individuals who voted “no” to the question (or, as the case may be, to each question).
d) Spoiled voting papers.
e) The number of individuals who were entitled to vote in the ballot.
f) Whether or not the number of votes cast in the ballot was at least 50% of the number of individuals who were entitled to vote in the ballot; and
g) Whether the number of people voting “yes” was at least 40% of the number of individuals who were entitled to vote in the ballot.
These changes will help ensure that a School is only ever disrupted by industrial action when it is supported by a reasonable proportion of its union members.
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