In July, the new(ish) Conservative government published the Trade Union Bill, which proposed amendments to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. This is part of the Conservative election pledge to review the laws on trade unions and industrial action.
Under the existing law, a strike can take place if it is backed by a simple majority of those balloted. However, the introduction of the Trade Union Bill proposes a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballots with at least a 40% majority vote by those entitled to vote in strikes involving health services, transport, fire services or schools. The Trade Union Congress’ (TUC) general secretary, Frances O’Grady believed it would “make strikes close to impossible” and would benefit some of the UK’s “worst bosses”.
A second major proposal is the removal of the ban that prevents employers from employing agency staff to cover for striking workers. This would decrease losses caused to the business and commotion caused to the general public.
Further proposals include:
- Limit union funds to the Labour Party.
- Unions must put the continuation of political funds to a vote by members every 5 years- ‘opt in’ instead of the current ‘opt out’ procedure.
- A named union official will be required to be available at all times to the police to oversee and supervise a picket.
- Unions will be compelled to renew any strike mandate with a fresh ballot within four months of the first ballot.
- Unions will be forced to give employers 14 days notice of strike action, rather than the current 7 day notice, and allow them to hire strike-breaking agency staff during industrial action.
- The proportion of working time between trade unions and public sector workers will be set to a limit by the government.
- The government certification officer will be given powers to fine trade unions as much as £20,000 for breaches of reporting rules including an annual audit on its protests and pickets.
- The government will require a clear description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action on the ballot paper.
- Public sector workers will lose the right to have their union subscriptions deducted from their salary.
- There would also be a time limit of three months after the ballot, for action to take place and curbs on picketing.
Implications of the new proposals
Conservative efforts to pioneer the bill are to guarantee strikes are used as the “last resort” according to David Cameron. However, there are concerns that the new balloting proposals are a constraint on a person’s Article 11 freedom of association rights under the European Convention. Business Secretary Sajid Javid has argued that the “government will aim to balance the rights of the working people with the rights of people in business.”
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