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Handling industrial action

Updating author: Nick Chronias, DAC Beachcroft


  • Unlike the law in many countries English law does not give workers a positive right to organise or participate in industrial action.
  • A union will be liable if it induces its members to participate in industrial action without first complying with specific balloting requirements. If the union complies with these and other requirements it will obtain immunity from liability from specified torts. (See Statutory immunity)
  • Provided that an employer has evidence that a union has tacitly authorised or endorsed its members to take industrial action without going through the balloting and notification requirements, it can demand that the union repudiate the industrial action. (See Authorising, endorsing or repudiating industrial action)
  • The industrial action must arise out of a dispute on one of a number of specified matters. (See "In contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute")
  • Detailed provisions govern the conduct of a ballot. (See The requirement to hold a ballot)
  • The union must notify any affected employer of its intention to conduct a ballot no later than a week before the ballot, and of the result of the ballot as soon as reasonably practicable after it has been held. It must then notify the employer of the proposed industrial action. (See Notification of a ballot/intended industrial action)
  • There must be a ballot turnout of at least 50% for industrial action to be lawful. (See Balloting thresholds)
  • Provided that the union has complied with these requirements, any employee participating in industrial action will have additional protection from unfair dismissal for at least the first 12 weeks of any industrial action during which time his or her dismissal for participating in the industrial action will automatically be unfair. (See Industrial action and unfair dismissal)
  • If, however, employees take part in industrial action which is not supported by their union, it will be unofficial and they may be dismissed by the employer, having forfeited their right to claim unfair dismissal. (See Dismissal of participants in unofficial industrial action)

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