Controversial Trade Union Bill Becomes Law


On May 4th the much disputed Trade Union Bill received Royal Asset and became the Trade Union Act. This news comes after many months of campaigning by trade unions and the Labour party as well as a series of defeats in the House of Lords.


Joy Drummond, a Partner specialising in Employment Law at Simpson Millar, looks at the concessions made to the Bill, the final key provisions in the Act and opinions on the new law.

The Act Remains Unpopular Despite Concessions

The Bill faced fierce and wide opposition which helped contribute to a number of concessions before it achieved final Royal Asset. Concessions included a back down on proposals to stop the 'check-off' system whereby unions collect subscriptions from member's wages as well as allowing 12 months, rather than the previous 3 months, to transition to the new pilot electronic voting scheme for ‘check-off’.

Frances O'Grady, TUC general secretary, was also pleased to see that the government decided against imposing a cap on union facility time – this is the paid time public sector union reps take from work to represent members. However, she also says:

"This legislation, even in its amended form, poses a serious threat to good industrial relations and is completely unnecessary.”

Shadow business secretary Angela Eagle too remained steadfast that the Bill "is entirely unnecessary and is bad for workers and businesses."

Joy, who is based at Simpson Millar's London office, comments:

"This legislation has been widely recognised as completely disproportionate to the issues being addressed and merely a vehicle to attack trade unions and the working people they represent, and a missed opportunity to make industrial action ballots even more democratic and cost effective by introducing electronic voting without delay."

Trade Union Act Key Provisions

  • There must be at least 50% turnout in industrial action ballots, that is at least 50% of those entitled to vote must do so in certain public services, including health, education, transport, border security and fire sectors.
  • At least 40% of those entitled to vote must vote ‘yes' to taking industrial action.
  • The industrial action must now take place within 6 months of the ballot, which can be extended to 9 months if both union and employer agree.
  • The ballot paper must have more information on it, including a summary of the dispute, the type of the planned action and when each type of action is expected to take place.
  • Employers must be given 14 days’ notice of industrial action.
  • The Government is to have an independent review of electronic balloting for industrial action ballots (but does not have to introduce it)
  • A new legal requirement for a picket supervisor and makes other parts of the Code of Practice on Picketing legally enforceable.
  • New powers for the Certification Officer to investigate suspected breaches of a union’s statutory duties and impose fines.
  • Changes to the requirements for payments to political parties.
  • In publically funded sectors payroll deductions (check-off) will only be permissible when the union pays the employer’s administrative costs of this and other means of payment are available.

The dates of implementation of these measures are not yet known, but are likely to be phased over this year and next.

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Simpson Millar has a long history of supporting trade unions and their members and we know how crucial unions can be in helping to promote and protect workers' rights.

Our Employment Law team provides specialist advice to unions and employees experiencing difficulties. We offer expert help and representation, working efficiently to support your rights at work and achieve a fair outcome.

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