Lords' proposed amendments to Trade Union Bill

Submitted by sglenister on Fri, 15/01/2016 - 13:19

15 January 2016

The Lords has proposed amendments to the Trade Union Bill to reduce the impact on trade unions, the most significant of which include:

1) Increasing the validity period of strike ballots to 12 rather than four months

The Bill currently states that the outcome of ballots is valid for only four months, after which time unions would need to hold a costly re-ballot to continue with plans for industrial action. The Institute of Employment Rights argues that this may encourage unscrupulous employers to hold out on negotiations, knowing that unions have a time-limit and that the expense of a re-ballot will put pressure on unions to settle for less than desired.

Lords Mendelsohn and Collins of Highbury have put forth amendments to increase this time limit to one year.

2) Removing new picketing rules for unions (Clause 9)

Lords Mendelsohn and Collins of Highbury have given notice of their intention to oppose the government's proposed picketing rules, which include the selection of a picket supervisor, who would be expected to wear an armband or badge to identify him/her and would be obliged to make themselves known to and contactable by the police.

We have argued that such restrictions are over-bureaucratic and not currently imposed on any other act of protest. Clause 9 does not respond to any clear problem with current picketing law – in evidence to the government by police in 2014, it was stated that the current legislation is fit for purpose – and presents a dangerous precedent for civil protest.

3) Disqualifying devolved public services and local authorities from the Act

Amendments have been proposed by several Lords to exempt local authorities, the London mayoral's office and public services either partially or wholly devolved to the Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland executive.

4) Reporting of savings made to employer as a result of facility time

Lords Mendelsohn and Collins of Highbury propose to remove the Bill's requirement for public sector employer's to report what proportion of their total pay bill went towards facility time, the percentage of employees' time used for union matters, and any facilities provided by the employer to support trade union work.

They also propose the addition of a requirement for public sector employers to report a "reasonable estimate" of what cost savings have been incurred by facility time arrangements and a statement agreed by both employer and union of the value of these arrangements.

We argued that obliging public sector employers to report only on the cost of facility time and not the savings made through trade union activities provided biased information that an anti-union media may take advantage of. The proposed amendments go some way to balancing this score.

5) Restricting the 40% support requirement to "essential" public services

The Bill currently states that if a ballot in a workforce "normally engaged in the provision of important public services" shows a majority of voters are in favour of industrial action, this can still not go ahead unless the number of 'yes' votes represents at least 40% of all workers entitled to vote (even if only 50% voted). With the government's refusal to allow unions to use more convenient and user-friendly balloting techniques than the currently permitted postal vote, unions may find it difficult to achieve high enough turnout rates to successfully canvas all of eligible members' views.

Lords Mendelsohn and Collins of Highbury propose amendments to this clause (Clause 3) that the 40% threshold will only apply to workers who are "solely" engaged in "essential" public services, as well as taking the power away from the Secretary of State to define what an "essential" service is, replacing it with the more commonly accepted definition:

"Those services the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population."

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