Trade union law changes:

what do they mean for your business?

Trade union law expert, Anne-Marie Boyle, from employment law firm Menzies Law, discusses the recent TU law changes and how to create a mutually beneficially relationship with your TU.

much interest there inevitably is in strike action. Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the


overall number of trade union members has increased by 36,000 to 6.49 million people in 2016. The figures also reveal that the number of trade union members in private sector employment has increased for the fifth consecutive year. Particular sectors showing growth in TU membership are transport, construction, logistics and communication. The Conservative party made it an election manifesto promise

that they would dismantle what it considered to be ‘disruptive and undemocratic strike action’. There probably isn’t much argument that they inherited the most employee/trade union friendly laws we have ever had in this country. Therefore, to follow up on their manifesto commitment,

the government introduced the Trade Union Act 2016 in March this year. Depending on whose rhetoric you believe, this is either the ‘biggest shake-up of trade union law for 30 years’ or a ‘hugely reduced version of a supposed flagship piece of legislation.’ But for businesses in the South West, what are the key

here is something about the trade union movement that has always engendered strong feelings in this country (both for and against) and you don’t need to read the papers often to see how

vote did actually vote, but also that 40% of those eligible to vote did actually vote in favour. Fresh ballot required after six

‘The reason

why relations with a union

months. Previously, provided that industrial action was started within four weeks of the ballot, there was nothing to prevent a union from suspending and restarting action in reliance on the original ballot, provided that it was the same industrial action. The government has put an end to this and provided that the maximum amount of time a ballot stays ‘valid’, will now be six months. Once that has passed, if there is a still a dispute, the trade union will have to ballot again (which as you can imagine is a time-consuming process and the employees might not be so willing to support further strike action six months down the line). Tighter requirements for balloting and striking. The

become toxic is often long forgotten’

changes, what will they mean for your company, and how can you improve your relationship with your trade union?

The Trade Union Act – key changes Legal strike action will be harder to achieve. Before 1 March, a trade union wanting to take strike action would have to achieve a simple majority from its members who actually voted. A trade union will now have to show that at least 50% of those eligible to vote, did actually vote on the ballot. It is also going to be even harder for a trade union to achieve a legal vote

for strike action in certain ‘key’ sectors - health, education for those under 17, fire, public transport, border security (and decommissioning of nuclear stations). Here they will not only have to show that 50% of those eligible to

Trade Union Act 2016 contains further provisions concerning the identification of picket leaders during strike action, stricter information requirements for the ballot paper, and alterations to the checking off system for the collection of trade union dues.

Creating a harmonious relationship with your trade union The reason why relations with a union become toxic is often long forgotten in the mists of time – it’s been going on so long, no one can really remember the reason. If yours is one of them, it is time to shake it up. No- one gains from a relationship like this and as a business you are entitled to benefit from a professional working relationship with your union. This can’t be solved overnight unfortunately, and will involve some time

and commitment. One of our client’s relationships with their union was taken to the brink last year when their union brought industrial action over proposed changes to pay. A lot of trust and good-will disappeared as a result of this process, but one year on, they are happily working together sorting out a TUPE transfer. How have they managed this? By meeting face-to-face with the union after the industrial action was completed, acknowledging that they had all been through a difficult time and making a professional commitment to repairing their relationship for the good of the organisation and its staff. Regular communication between management and the recognised

trade union vastly improves the quality of the working relationship and minimises conflicts. In our experience, if an employer is in constant communication with its union and involves them in formulating the best strategies to handle issues that affect the business, the employer and union can maintain a good, conflict-free working relationship.

Anne-Marie is hosting a TU law workshop at Business West on 8 June for senior HR professionals or managers at firms with a TU. If you are interested in attending, contact

MAY/JUNE 2017 insight 23


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