New law on ballot voting thresholds for unions to take strike action

Implementation date: 1 March 2017

The Trade Union Act (which received Royal Assent on 4 May 2016) reforms the rules on trade union ballots for taking industrial action. The main provisions of the Act are commenced by the Trade Union Act 2016 (Commencement No.3 and Transitional) Regulations 2017 (SI 2017/139).

The main provisions of the Act are:

  • increasing to 50% the voting threshold for union ballots turnouts (while retaining the requirement for there to be a simple majority of votes in favour of industrial action);
  • introducing an additional requirement that 40% of all those entitled to vote in the ballot must vote in favour of industrial action in certain public services such as health, education, fire and transport;
  • requiring a description of the trade dispute on the ballot paper;
  • introducing measures to restrict picketing;
  • introducing changes to the role of the certification officer;
  • introducing a new requirement that new members must opt into the political fund element of trade unions subscriptions;
  • increase the amount of notice of a strike to be given to an employer to 14 days; and
  • restricting the mandate for industrial action post ballot by introducing time limits on the mandate.

Regulations and guidance on the Regulations have been published that set out the details of the type of occupations and services that will be subject to the 40% threshold:

The Trade Union Act 2016 includes provisions on check-off arrangements, along with other measures to record the cost of "facility time" in the public sector. The Government had intended to abolish the check-off process for public-sector employees (the process whereby the employer deducts trade union membership subscriptions from pay). However, it has agreed in principle to amend this proposal to allow the check-off system to remain where there is agreement with the employer to provide check-off and the union meets the administrative cost.