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Trade Union Act 2016- What are the changes in the law?

12th May 2016

After a difficult passage through Parliament, the controversial Trade Union Bill has received Royal assent, and is now the Trade Union Act 2016.

The Act does not have immediate effect, and will only come into operation through subsequent statutory instruments. So it is likely it will come into effect gradually over time.

The Act has been controversial for a number of reasons. The main aspect that has caught the attention of the press and public is the requirement under the Act for a minimum turnout of 50% of trade union members in all ballots for industrial action. The Government has for some time raised the concern that many ballots in the past have failed to attract a majority of the union members to vote- casting (in the eyes of the Government) questions and doubt over the legitimacy of the subsequent votes for industrial action.

A second, and equally controversial aspect of the legislation is an additional threshold to be applied to votes in respect of "important public services." This has resulted in questions on the definition of "important" for these purposes.The Act defines six sectors as being "important" public services, namely, health, education of those under 17 years old, fire services, transport, nuclear decommissioning, and border security.

The Act provides for changes to the balloting process. It requires more detailed descriptions of the dispute than has previously been required, together with more detailed description of the proposed industrial action.

A significant concern raised by the Government has been the duration of the validity of a vote in favour of industrial action, and concern that this has been open to abuse by the Trade Unions under the previous legislation, with significant delays between the vote in favour of action, and the taking of the industrial action itself. The new Act therefore addresses this matter, and imposes a limit of 6 months for the validity of the vote (with the possibility of extending that period by agreement with the employer!).Under the new Act the Trade Union is also to be required to give at least 14 days advance notice of the date of the industrial action to the employer (or 7 days if the employer agrees).

Payment for union subscriptions is to be changed under the Act. The Government has expressed concerns over the previous use of an "opt- out" approach. The Act introduces a requirement for new union members to be offered an active choice of whether to pay into a union's political fund, and to provide information on opting out from such contributions on an annual basis.

The Act also gives statutory force to some parts of the Code of Practice on Picketing, including imposing a requirement to have a picket supervisor.

One issue that the Government has raised concerns over has been the ban on employers using agency staff to fill in for striking workers. The public discourse on the Bill had included the subject of repealing that ban. However, the Act does not include a repeal of that ban. It is likely that this particular topic will receive further attention from the Government in the future.

If you need advice on any aspect of the issues raised in this article do not hesitate to contact us at Hallett Employment Law Services Ltd.             

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