Biggest change to trade union legislation in decades gets green light

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After months of negotiations the Trade Union Act 2016 has been given Royal Assent, giving the green light to the biggest change to trade union laws in decades.

The Act has been strongly opposed in union quarters and although the explanatory notes suggest it will be brought into force this month (July), some commentators don’t expect the majority of the provisions to come into force until later this year, with some delayed to the start of 2017.

The main new points to note are as follows:

  • Industrial action will need to be supported by a majority of voters, and at least 50% of eligible members must vote, or 40% in the public service sector.
  • Unions will need to include clear details of the dispute on the ballot paper so that workers know exactly what they are voting for.
  • Unions must give 14 days’ notice of industrial action rather than the previous 7, unless the employer agrees to accept 7 days.
  • A ballot for industrial action is valid for 6 months, or 9 months with the employer’s agreement. This is a substantial extension to the previous 4 or 8 weeks.
  • Deduction of union subscriptions directly from the payroll will only be allowed if the union contributes to the administration costs of doing this and if the worker has the option of payment by other means.
  • A picket supervisor must be appointed and identifiable.
  • New union members may not be required to contribute to political funds unless they actively choose to do so.

It has been proposed that the ban on use of agency workers to replace striking workers should be overturned, however this is not covered by the Act at this stage.