The relationship between employers and trade unions is currently regulated by the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA).
TULRCA sets out the conditions which trade unions must meet if they are to receive protection from being sued for inducing employees to breach their contracts.
Statistics provided by the Office for National Statistics showed that in 2014, the private sector lost 72,000 work days due to industrial action. The public sector was even worse and lost 716,000 working days due to industrial action.
The Treasury estimates that if 2/3rds of state schools were to go on strike, this would lead to a 3-4% drop in output by the whole of the private sector due to the time taken off by staff who need to put in place alternative child care arrangements.
Consequently, the Government vowed to toughen up the rules on taking industrial action.
The key changes
Having published a wide reaching Trade Union Bill, the Government subsequently watered down its measures following an outcry. The key changes that are now being proposed are:
* An introduction of a requirement that at least 50% of eligible members of the trade union must have voted;
* Where important public services are involved, trade unions must demonstrate that 40% of those entitled to vote have voted in favour of industrial action. This will not apply if the trade union reasonably believes they were not normally engaged in those services at the time of the ballot;
* Two weeks' notice to be given on industrial action (this can be reduced to seven days, if agreed);
* The mandate for industrial action will expire six months after the date of ballot (this can be extended to nine months, if agreed);
* The introduction of new requirements for picketing. These include appointing a picket supervisor who can be easily identified. A picket supervisor has to inform the police of the picket and has to either be at the picket or available on short notice.
It is believed that these changes are likely to have a large impact on all employers by making strike action more difficult. The BIS estimates that 38% of the strikes in 2011 would not have gone ahead under the new rules as they would not have met the 50% threshold set out above.
It cannot be doubted that the proposed amendments will further curb the ever reducing power of the trade unions.