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The Trade Union Act 2016

This month’s topical employment update has been written by Natalie Reeder from the University of Law. Thank you to Natalie and we hope you find it interesting.

The controversial Trade Union Act 2016 came into in force on 1 March 2017. With the mass publicity surrounding current disputes such as those within the transport and health industries, it is logical to wonder what the impact of this will be on the 6.5 million Trade Union members in the UK.

It is undeniable that intention behind the Act is to decrease the amount of industrial action taken in the UK and this is accomplished by making it more difficult for union members to achieve the required steps to be lawfully protected from dismissal during industrial action.

The theory goes that if the steps are harder to attain, less industrial action will be called, meaning a greater chance of employer action going unchallenged and fewer working days lost each year. It may be reasoned that a decrease in strike action and an increase in the running of services is advantageous to members of the public and corporations alike. However with the recent attacks on workers’ rights through the introduction of Tribunal fees and the growth of the gig economy, it is arguably more important than ever that workers are able to protect themselves by way of industrial action. It is also evident from recent studies that trade union membership is no longer the preserve of the white male, but is increasing amongst female and black workers. Trade unions therefore play a fundamental role in protecting members of minority groups from discrimination.

Under the new legislation, a union must achieve at least a 50% ballot turnout and a simple majority in agreement to commence industrial action. Whilst the political system is diluted to more options than a simple yes or no, it appears to be in stark contrast to this that the last time a political party attained more than 50% of the vote was in 1931. There is a clear danger of holding workers to a higher level of accountability than the government bringing the Act.

Further provisions contained within the Act are that 40% of the eligible voters in industries such as fire, transport, education and health must agree to take industrial action, regardless of the turnout itself – although this must still be at least 50%. Whilst this would not have stopped many of the major strikes which have taken place over the past few years, the new legislation would certainly have quashed a number of the smaller, less publicised strikes that have occurred recently.

As a result of the Act it is vital to identify the alternative ways in which unions and members will make their voices heard. It is anticipated that more strategic balloting will take place and that there will be an increase in alternative action. With strikes (being one of the more peaceful methods of protest) being restricted, there is the risk that alternative action may not be so passive, particularly where jobs and livelihoods are at stake.

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Working with students from the University of Law in Birmingham

Students from the University of Law have kindly offered to keep our news section topical by producing regular articles for the website. The first issue covered is the "gig economy" and the recent Uber case. Many thanks to the students involved!

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