Reforms to reduce trade union powers and activities

2022 has quickly become The Summer of Strikes, with industrial action taking place across all industries, in all parts of the UK. As trade union membership soars and strikes continue to cause havoc to business operations and daily lives, the government has started to say enough is enough. In response, the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has set out a 16-point plan to take on “militant trade unions.” He hopes that introducing reforms will reduce union powers and minimise the impact on critical public services.

His full proposals are outlined as follows:

  1. Raise strike ballot support threshold from 40% to 50% of eligible workers.
  2. Require unions to give 4 weeks’ notice of industrial action instead of 2.
  3. Limit ballot mandate to one event of strike action. Currently, the mandate allows any number of strikes over 6 months.
  4. Impose absolute limits on numbers attending pickets.
  5. Place restrictions on picketing in the vicinity of Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sites.
  6. Prohibit use of inflammatory language on pickets.
  7. Prohibit online intimidation.
  8. Make it easier for employers to put pay offers directly to workers, rather than via their union, by removing risk of legal sanctions for doing so.
  9. Require ballot papers to clearly state the reason for the dispute and the employers response to the issues in dispute.
  10. Lift the ban in the Civil Contingencies Act on using emergency regulations to stop strike action where it may create a national emergency.
  11. Bring in a cap on facility time, which allows union representatives to carry out union work on employers’ time, in the public sector.
  12. Minimum service levels must be delivered during strikes.
  13. Remove ability for trade union membership fees to be paid from wages.
  14. Investigate possibility of taxing walkout payments paid to strikers. Not all unions make such payments, but for those who do, the payments are currently tax-free.
  15. Remove ban on agency workers being used to temporarily replace strikes (already done).
  16. Increase the damages cap for unlawful strikes from £250,000 to £1million (already done).

Whilst many employers will welcome these reforms, it’s important to recognise the push back that may come from trade unions and their members if they are introduced. Employees may feel like they don’t have sufficient space to raise concerns about workplace policies and practices. As such, should disputes go unresolved, business may be faced with reduced productivity and high turnover rates.

Therefore, it’s important to introduce effective channels for employees to make, and employers to address, issues. By creating an environment where staff feel listened to and valued, it is much easier to address complaints without them escalating into further action.

Employers may wish to use this time to pro-actively consider ways they can communicate and negotiate better with their teams. Supporting this with robust policies and procedures can make disputes much easier to manage in the long run.

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