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What impact will the proposed Trade Union Bill 2015 /16 have for schools if it goes ahead?

25 January 2016

On 15 July 2015, the Government published a new Trade Union Bill 2015-2016 (the Bill) proposing amendments to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

The Bill is still progressing through Parliament and therefore remains a proposal at this point in time.

If the Bill were to be passed in its current form the following aspects of the law on industrial action and trade union obligations and activities would change:

Ballot thresholds

Currently, a strike or other industrial action will be unlawful unless at least 50% of trade union members who responded to the relevant ballot voted in favour of the action.

The Bill proposes an amendment to introduce the additional requirement that at least 50% of all eligible members must have voted. The number of people voting includes those who return spoiled or otherwise invalid ballot papers.

For those in important public services (including schools), industrial action will only be allowed where 40% of eligible members have voted in favour.

Ballot results

Currently, members are informed of how many votes in a ballot there were in total, how many people voted in favour and how many against the industrial action, and how many were spoiled.

The new amendments would mean that members would also be told of the number of individuals entitled to vote and whether or not the number of votes cast was 50% of the entitled members.

Notice requirement for industrial action

Notice given to employers of industrial action would be increased from seven days to 14.

Expiry date of industrial action

Currently, provided that industrial action is started within a four week period, there is nothing to prevent a union from suspending and restarting action in reliance on the original ballot, provided that is the same industrial action.

The Bill introduces a new four month time limit after a ballot in which strike action must take place.

Supervision of Picketing

The Bill proposes new fairly detailed requirements for picketing. A failure to comply will make the picketing unlawful and therefore actionable in tort.

The union must:

  • appoint a person, who is ‘familiar’ with any codes of practice dealing with picketing, to supervise the picketing
  • take ‘reasonable’ steps to inform police of the supervisor's name, where the picketing will take place and how to contact the picket supervisor
  • provide the supervisor with a letter stating that they are authorised to act as such.

The supervisor must:

  • show their authorisation letter from the union to anyone who reasonably asks to see it, including the police
  • be present at the picketing or readily contactable and able to attend at short notice
  • if present at the picketing, wear a badge, armband or anything else which could identify them.

Facility time

The Bill proposes a new definition of ‘facility time’ to cover the different types of time off which a union official can take.

Some public sector employers may be required to publish information about facility time.

The information would include things like the number of union officials the employer has and the amount of time spent by union officials on facility time.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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