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Trade Union Bill

Published Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Trade Union Bill 2015-16 was introduced in the House of Commons on 15 July 2015.

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The Trade Union Bill 2015-16 was introduced in the House of Commons on 15 July 2015.  The Bill, together with its Explanatory Notes, are available on the Parliament website, where one can follow the Bill’s progress.  The Bill would apply to England and Wales, and Scotland.

The Bill was announced during the Queen’s Speech on 27 May 2015, described as “legislation to reform trade unions and to protect essential public services against strikes”.  In the background briefing to the Queen’s Speech, the Government described the main purposes of the Bill as being to:

  • Pursue our ambition to become the most prosperous major economy in the world by 2030.
  • Ensure hardworking people are not disrupted by little-supported strike action.

The announcement followed commitments in the Conservative Party manifesto 2015, which set out many of the proposals which feature in the Bill.

Alongside the Bill, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is consulting on regulations that would be required to implement ballot thresholds in important public services.  BIS is also consulting on measures which do not currently feature in the Bill:

  • repealing the existing prohibition on hiring agency staff to replace workers participating in industrial action (which can be achieved by secondary legislation using existing powers); and
  • changes to the law on picketing, including the possible creation of a new criminal offence of “intimidation on the picket line”.

BIS has published a collection of documents on the Gov.uk website which acts as a useful central source of background government material.  The collection includes the aforementioned consultation documents together with impact assessments; a Delegated Powers Memorandum; and a European Convention on Human Rights memorandum.

In addition to the Bill’s current provisions, the Government has indicated it intends to amend the Bill to abolish check-off in the public sector.  Check-off is a system whereby union membership payments are deducted from union members’ salaries by their employers and paid over to unions. 

Summary of the Bill

The main provisions of the Bill are as follows.

Clause 1 defines the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation Act 1992 as “the 1992 Act”.  The Bill would amend this Act.

Clause 2 would introduce a 50 per cent turnout requirement for industrial action ballots, in addition to the current requirement for a majority vote in favour of action. 

Under clause 3, industrial action in “important public services” would require a positive vote by at least 40 per cent of those entitled to vote in the ballot.  This would be in addition to the 50 per cent turnout threshold and the requirement for a majority vote.  “Important public services” would be defined in subsequent regulations, but could fall only within the following categories:

  • health services;
  • education of those aged under 17;
  • fire services;
  • transport services;
  • decommissioning of nuclear installations and management of radioactive waste and spent fuel; or
  • border security.

Clause 4-6 would require unions to include new types of information on industrial action ballots.  Following a ballot, unions would have to communicate more detailed information to union members, employers and the Certification Officer.

Clause 7 would extend the period of notice unions must give employers prior to industrial action, from the current seven days to 14 days. 

Clause 8 of the Bill would provide that industrial action ballot mandates would expire after a four-month period; industrial action after this point would require a fresh ballot.

Clause 9 would introduce new legal requirements relating to the supervision of picketing.  The requirements would include, for example, that a picket supervisor must take reasonable steps to communicate information to the police.  The clause would incorporate into law provisions of the 1992 Code of Practice on Picketing.

Clause 10 would make it unlawful to require a member of a union to contribute to a political fund unless he has indicated in writing willingness to do so.  This would change political fund contributions from an opt-out to an opt-in arrangement.  The opt-in agreement would expire after five years, subject to the possibility of renewal.  Clause 11 would require unions to publish details of political expenditure in their annual returns if this expenditure exceeds £2,000 per annum.  The annual return must detail the amount spent on political objects and the recipient(s) of each item of expenditure.

Clause 12 would introduce a power, whereby a Minister may by regulations require a relevant public sector employer to publish information relating to facility time taken by union officials.  Clause 13 would create a reserve power whereby a Minister may make regulations restrict facility time.

Clauses 14-17 and Schedules 1-3 would reform the role of the Certification Officer.  They would introduce investigatory and enforcement powers; the power to impose financial penalties of between £200 and £20,000; and the power to, by regulations, make provision for the Certification Officer to require trade unions and employers’ associations to pay a levy, funding the performance of his role.

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-7295

Authors: Douglas Pyper; Aliyah Dar

Topics: Employment, Industrial relations

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