House of Commons

The Trade Union Bill received its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The Trade Union Bill, containing the Government reforms designed to end what they describe as ‘unjustified disruption to working people’s daily lives’ received its second reading in Parliament yesterday amid strong criticism from union leaders. The bill proposes a time limit on ballots so that mandates for industrial action are always recent.

One of the major focuses of the legislation is the ability of unions to carry out action based on ballots that are, in some cases, over three years old. The Government have argued that, under current laws, the ongoing London Underground and First Great Western industrial action could carry on for years.

Currently there are a number of live mandates for industrial action that are more than 2 years old. These include:

  • the NUT ballots in 2011 and 2012 have resulted in 8 national and regional strikes. The last strike, in July 2014, which also included support staff from other unions, closed around a fifth of schools
  • an FBU 2013 ballot has resulted in 49 strikes over a 2 year period

“This is a one nation government acting in the interests of the whole country and these reforms will stop the ‘endless’ threat of strike action hanging over hardworking people,” said Business Secretary Sajid Javid. “Trade unions play an important role and deserve our respect. But when working people’s lives are being disrupted by strike action, it is only fair that this happens as a result of a contemporary mandate that is supported by the majority of union members.”

The reforms will update industrial action law, meaning the right to strike is, from the Government’s perspective, fairly balanced with the right of people to be able to go about their daily lives and work.

Employment Minister Nick Boles said, “Working people need to know they can get on with their lives without unjustified disruption. These modernising reforms will ensure strikes only happen as a result of a clear, positive and recent decision by those entitled to vote.”

Reforms in the bill include:

  • 50% threshold for ballot turn-out in all industrial action votes
  • an additional threshold of 40% of support to take industrial action from all members eligible to vote in the key health, education, fire, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning sectors
  • the requirement of a clear description of the trade dispute and the planned industrial action on the ballot paper, so that all union members are clear what they are voting for

The bill also seeks to:

  • introduce greater scrutiny and control over taxpayer-funded subsidies to trade unions (so-called ‘facility time’), such as full-time trade union representatives
  • create a transparent process for trade union subscriptions that allows members to make an active choice of paying into political funds, as is already the case in Northern Ireland, protecting union members from misleading marketing practices
  • enhance the regulatory role of the Certification Officer to ensure robust and effective regulation of trade unions

Yesterday TUC leader Frances O’Grady labelled the bill an ‘attack on the fundamental right to strike’ and claimed that the Conservative party were only interested in serving the interests of the UK’s big financial organisations.