The Trade Union Bill received Royal Assent on 4 May, and is now the Trade Union Act 2016. The Act does not contain a commencement date; it will be brought into effect by statutory instrument.
Not all the changes contained in the original Bill have survived. For example, a provision repealing the prohibition on the use of agency workers during strikes (or "strike breakers" to put it more emotively) is not in the Act, although it is possible it will feature in future legislation, but far from certain when. The Government accepted a number of changes made to the bill in the House of Lords, where it does not have a majority.
Some of the main changes are:-
- all ballots in support of strike or other industrial action must have a turnout of 50% of those entitled to vote, as well as a simple majority of those voting in favour;
- in ballots in certain important public services (health, education under 17, fire, transport, parts of the nuclear industry and border security) the majority voting in favour must constitute at least 40% of those eligible to vote;
- the ballot paper must contain more detail (but not as much as originally proposed) of the matters in dispute and of the sorts of action short of a strike and timing of such action;
- ballots for industrial action will remain valid for six months (or nine months with the employer's agreement);
- 14 (rather than 7) days' notice must be given of any strike action, but 7 days' notice will still suffice if the employer agrees to that;
- there will be an obligation on unions to appoint suitable picket supervisors;
- there are changes to the rules relating to the payment of trade union subscriptions, and in public sector employment check-off will only be allowed if the union contributes to the cost of administration;
- the Certification Officer is given new powers to investigate and take enforcement action where a union breaches statutory duties.
Some of the new technical provisions relating to ballots may be a slight trap for less well organised unions. But the voting changes also create the risk for employers that unions will work harder to get a suitable mandate, and may end up with a stronger negotiating hand than if they had merely satisfied the old threshold tests. There will be a review of electronic balloting (which the Government does not favour) but the idea of reintroducing workplace ballots (favoured by the unions) was never likely to be agreed. The changes to the picketing rules have been watered down, but identification of (some) picketing leaders may be easier than in the past.
A more detailed analysis of the Act will follow nearer the date when it takes effect. There may be challenges to the legislation so far as it applies to Scotland and Wales.