BREXIT, strikes and industrial action ballots
Leaving the EU will be easier than going on strike…
From 1 March 2017 the Trade Union Act 2016 will impose new minimum voting requirements if a ballot in favour of a strike or other industrial action is to be lawful.
The background is that – despite the UK having signed up to several international conventions that protect the rights of employees to join unions and participate in industrial action – there is no right to strike or engage in industrial action.
Instead the mechanism is that, if industrial action ballot requirements are met, acts that would result in claims for damages against a union for inducing breach of an employment contract, or the lawful dismissal of employees for breach of contract in refusing to work, are protected.
The new minimum ballot requirements will be that:
- at least 50% of union members who are eligible to vote in a ballot must vote; and
- there need be no more than a simple majority of those who actually vote in a ballot for strike or industrial action to be lawful; but
- if a ballot for strike or other industrial action is in a sector that comprises “important public services” – the health service, teaching under-17s, the fire service, transport services, the nuclear industry and border security – then at least 40% of those eligible to vote in a ballot must also vote in favour of industrial action.
The “important public services” principle was in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto’s aim to end “disruptive and undemocratic strike action” by introducing tougher thresholds when voting in a ballot for industrial action.
Applying the new post – 1 March 2017 industrial action voting rules for important public services to the (presumably?) important Brexit vote, in order for the Leave vote to have won:
– under condition 1 above: at least 50% of the 46,500,001 then eligible voters – so at least 23,250,001 – must have voted. In the referendum, because 33,551,983 people voted, this threshold was passed easily;
– under condition 2 above: at least 50% of those who voted – at least 16,775,991 – must have voted Leave. In the referendum, because 17,410,7423 people voted Leave, this threshold was also passed easily; but
– under condition 3 above: because of the (presumed) importance to the public of Brexit, at least 40% of those entitled to vote – so at least 18,600,001 – would have had to vote Leave. In the referendum, only 17,410,742 voted for Leave, so the Leave vote would have failed.
So if the Trade Union Act 2017 principles had been applied to Brexit, the UK would not now be about to trigger legislation that will result in it leaving the EU.
The ironies are that the Brexit referendum methodology offered no proportionality of the type that characterises the new ballot requirements; a strike ballot has a “use by” date, but the Brexit referendum doesn’t even have a “best before” date; and whereas a failure to observe the new rules about voting for strike and other industrial action would render the trade union liable for damages and would make dismissals fair, there are no sanctions for the consequences to the UK electorate or to EU citizens settled in the UK, of leaving the EU.
What else does the Trade Union Act 2017 do? It amends the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 by increasing ballot thresholds; by introducing new information and timing requirements in relation to an industrial action ballot; by imposing requirements on unions for supervising picketing; and by anticipating (but introducing) regulations to abolish check-off of union subscriptions in the public sector.
Consequently it will be easier to leave the EU (affecting 64 million people) than it is to go on strike (affecting a much smaller cohort).