The Institute of Employment Rights welcomes the announcement by Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility, Margot James this week that Sir Ken Knight has been appointed to Chair an independent review into electronic balloting for unions.

The government was forced into conducting the review after trade unions and Labour MPs fought for the right for trade unions to use electronic balloting systems during the passing of the Trade Union Act (TUA) through parliament earlier this year.

Initially, the Tories argued that electronic systems could be open to fraudulent activity, but as it was pointed out during the debate, these are the very same systems used by the Conservative Party for their own internal elections such as that of their nominee for London mayor.

The review, and the government's response to it, will be presented to parliament by December 2017 at the latest and will investigate any security issues with electronic balloting.

Currently, trade unions are limited to using postal ballots, which are expensive to run and less effective in gaining a significant turnout to votes. This impedes trade union democracy and could now significantly weaken the ability of trade unions to fight back against unfair treatment by employers after the TUA introduced new support thresholds of a 50% turnout for industrial action ballots, and an additional 40% of support for strikes from the whole workforce (with abstentions effectively counted as 'no' votes) in many public services.

Following months of debate and campaigning, the Trade Union Bill gained Royal Assent this week (04 May 2016). The final Act is a watered down version of the original punitive proposals made by the Tories, but it still presents a major challenge to the Labour Movement, particularly through the imposition of support and turnout thresholds on strike ballots; the introduction of reserve powers for Ministers to place a cap on facility time in the public sector; and the change to an opt-in process for unions' political funds, which presents a major risk to the funding of political opposition to the Tory Party.

Some gains were made in the Lords, with the government backing down on its planned - and entirely unjustified - prohibition of check-off in the public sector, although even here the law now allows employers to challenge the agreement, putting this time-honoured system on more fragile ground. While evidence shared in the Lords suggests most public sector employers want to continue with check-off, there were worrying indications that some authorities might use their powers to scrap the process for purely ideological reasons.

Taken from Institute of Employment Rights News Brief.


This week the Trade Union Bill went back to the House of Commons. We didn’t manage to defeat the entire bill, but we did manage to remove several elements of it that would have irrevocably damaged the trade union movement.


The final bill looks drastically different from when it was proposed last year. And to achieve that, we ran a campaign to be proud of.


UNISON members across the UK took part. There were marches in major cities, members visited their MPs and wrote to their local councillors, others attended Parliament for a mass lobby, there was a week of action in February, and much more.


We emphasised that trade unions have a positive impact on the workplace, and that trade union members are the very people who can solve the country’s economic problems. We said that MPs needed to focus on the real problems the country faces and talk to us about how we can work together for a better future.


And many people listened. Senior figures on the left and the right came out in opposition to the bill – from human rights groups Amnesty and Liberty condemning it as an attack on civil liberties, to The Regulatory Policy Committee, the independent body appointed by the government to scrutinise regulatory proposals, calling it ‘not fit for purpose,’ to Conservative MP David Davis comparing part of the bill to Franco’s Spain.


The key changes we won:


  • union members can continue to pay their subs via payroll if they wish. The government withdrew plans to ban public sector workers from having their union subs deducted from their wages (check-off);
  • plans to give the Certification Officer (who regulates trade unions) unnecessary power over unions and to charge unions to fund it were watered down;
  • plans to restrict union political funds (which fund our work with the Labour Party as well as local campaigns, such as saving local hospitals) were watered down. The changes in funding policy will now only apply to new members and the costs and effort will be much reduced;
  • the government agreed to a review of online methods for strike ballots, which would help increase turnouts;
  • plans to cap union public sector facility time (the time representatives can take away in order to represent members for example) have been watered down. They will now only happen in occasional cases, after at least three years of research and negotiation with ministers.


These added to concessions already made to:


  • drop extreme measures to restrict protest, pickets and social media campaigns;
  • abandon plans to make everyone on a picket show personal data to the police, employers or anyone who asks for it;
  • the 40% strike ballot threshold will not apply to union members working in ancillary services that support important public services.


Though this bill is still a damaging and undemocratic piece of legislation, we should be proud of the campaign we have run.


UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Of course we’d rather the bill had never existed, and there is much that is still wrong with it. Even with today’s amendments it still places unnecessary burdens on working people and their unions.


“But ministers have sensibly listened to many of the arguments put to them. They have rowed back from many of the proposals that would have placed unbearable restrictions on unions’ ability to function in public sector workplaces across the country.”


The Bill now goes back to the House of Lords and it is a wait to see if they will insist on any of the points that the government have refused. As soon as we have any more information, we will update you.


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