HR & Management

What you need to know about the Trade Union Bill and its new striking rules

6 min read

14 September 2015

Parliament is debating the new Trade Union Bill today, but what does it mean for business?

Plans to tighten up UK strike ballot rules are being debated by the Houses of Parliament today, to much anger from the trade union sector.

So what do businesses sitting in the middle of the debate need to know?

Conservative government plans to implement new strike ballot laws were set out in the Queen’s speech earlier this year. The Trade Union Bill said it would “pursue our ambition to become the most prosperous major economy in the world by 2030 and ensure hardworking people are not disrupted by little-supported strike action”.

The Bill would see the introduction of a 50 per cent voting threshold for union ballot turnouts whilst retaining the requirement for there to be a simple majority of votes in favour. There would also be a new requirement that 40 per cent of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of industrial action in ‘certain essential public services’ such as health, education, fire and transport.

The Bill will replace current legislation where a strike can take place if backed by a simple majority of those balloted.

An often quoted example is the 48 hour Tube strikes in London last year where 77 per cent of RMT members who voted in the ballot backed action.

However, the number of eligible RMT members who took part was only 40 per cent – with reportedly only 31 per cent of the total workforce voting in favour.

The government believes the Bill would “ensure that strikes are the result of clear, positive and recent decisions by union members” and “ensure that disruption to essential public services has a democratic mandate”.

Strike reforms welcomed by employers' groups, but deemed "spiteful" by trade unions

The Trades Union Congress believes the Bill will risk damaging the relationship between employers and workers.

“Everyone prefers a negotiated agreement to a strike, but you only get real negotiation when there is a fair balance of power on both sides of the table. Collective bargaining works because both sides understand what the other can deliver, and it’s why genuine negotiations rarely result in strikes and achieve a deal. Instead of this bill, we need to foster a culture of positive relationships between employers and unions, based on mutual respect. This is better for the long-term success of British industry as it achieves employee engagement and trust between workers and employers,” it has said.

So what do employers need to know about recognition?

A union that is recognised by an employer can expect to: have relevant information disclosed to it to facilitate collective bargaining; be consulted where 20 or more redundancies are to be made in a 90 day period or less; be consulted where there is a transfer of an undertaking, be consulted in relation of health and safety matters; and be recognised when dealing with pay, hours and holiday negotiations for defined bargaining units.

An independent trade union that wishes to be recognised to collectively bargain on behalf of a group of workers can seek recognition by negotiation and agreement with the employer. If agreement cannot be reached it can then use the statutory procedure set out under Part I of Schedule A1 to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

To be a valid recognition request it must in writing identify the union and the bargaining unit, and state that it is made under Schedule A1. The union has to have a certificate of independence and the employer must employ at least 21 workers on the day it receives the union’s request or an average of at least 21 workers in the 13 weeks ending with that day.

The employer then has ten working days starting from the day after the day on which it receives the union’s request to accept, reject, or advise the union that it is willing to negotiate.

If matters can’t be agreed between union and employer then it moves to the statutory process. This begins when the union makes a written request for recognition direct to the employer. If unsuccessful then the union must submit an application for recognition to the Central Arbitration Committee or CAC.

It must be satisfied that at least ten per cent of the workers in the union’s proposed bargaining unit are members of the union and that a majority of workers within the bargaining unit are likely to support recognition of the union. If the CAC is not satisfied then it can arrange for a secret ballot to be held.

Once recognition is in place it is then for the employer and union to agree a method of collective bargaining on pay, hours and holidays.