The Trade Union Act 2016

The Trade Union Act 2016

On 4 May, the Trade Union Act 2016 was passed, setting about unprecedented reforms to trade unions. It will not come into force immediately, further legislation is needed and the Act faces strong opposition in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament as well as legal challenges from the unions.  According to the Government, the intention of the reforms is to end “disruptive and undemocratic strike action”. It has been labelled by some however, as an “ideological attack on trade unions”.

Key changes for employers to watch

• Strike ballot turnout will increase to at least 50% of those entitled to vote. This is substantially more than the current simple majority of those actually voting.

• Some “important public services” which include health, education and transport, will have a higher threshold that at least 40% of those entitled to vote, must vote yes.

• Notice of industrial action to be given to employer will increase from 7 to 14 days (unless the employer agrees that 7 days is enough).

• The validity of a ballot mandate will expire after 6 months (or 9 if employer agrees) if no industrial action is taken.

• There will now be a legislative requirement to appoint a picketing supervisor.

What could this mean?

There will be a substaintial shake up in how trade unions approach ballots and industrial action. Some have expressed concern that the legislation will in fact spur unions to be more strategic when balloting members, restricting ballots to specific locations or jobs. The effect of this is that it may be more likely that unions will meet the thresholds. The recent BMA organised junior doctors’ strike in England saw 98% of the ballot of 37,000 vote in favour of industrial action.

Others have said that the Act may cause alternative approaches to disputes to arise. It has been suggested that employees may look to grassroots campaigns, unballoted and unofficial strike actions whereby they give no notice to their employer.

Agency workers
Not contained within the Act, is the Government’s intention to repeal a ban on employers hiring agency workers for cover during strike action. The trade unions have opposed this, stating that it undermines the effectiveness of strike action. However, in the event of such legislation, employers in many sectors may find it difficult to recruit workers with the necessary skills to cover their striking employees.

The explanatory notes of the Act suggest that implementation could start this month although the change of leadership in the Government may affect this. The changes to the thresholds are expected to be introduced during 2016.

If you would like to know more about the Trade Union Act and how it may affect your business and employees, or any other aspect of employment law, please contact

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