From 4th May 2016 the Trade Union Act set out to protect people from undemocratic industrial action following a series of modernised reforms announced by the Government in 2015. In summary, the Act was introduced to ensure strikes can only go ahead as a result of a clear democratic mandate from union members, with a view to uphold the option to strike whilst reducing disruption to millions of affected people.
These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Employee Relations and Engagement Think Tank (ER&ETT) held on Tuesday 31st January 2017 hosted by Network Rail’s, Mustafa Faruqi (Head of Industrial Relations), titled ‘How will the Trade Union Act affect Industrial Action in your Business?’.
The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior Employee Relations and Human Resources professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.
What does the Act mean?
- The new Trade Union Act will require a 50% turnout for industrial actions and failure to meet this quota will result in the ballot failure.
- Following this, 40% of those eligible to vote need to support the action for there to also be a strike.
- Notice must now be given 14 days in advance of the strike action, doubled from 7 days.
- The Union must now take action within 6 months otherwise they will have to have a re-ballot after this 6 month period; one of the benefits of this new act.
What impact will it have on the business?
- It will make it much harder for the public sector to strike where postal ballots of larger workforces rarely achieve high turnouts.
- If the unions achieve a 50% turnout, they then need support from 40% of those votes to back the action, which amounts to 80% needing to be in favour of a strike.
- If these new thresholds were introduced during the last parliament, the major public sector strikes on pay and pension reform would not have been possible.
What changes are advised for the business?
- Reduce the amount of people on full time facility and elect local reps to focus on grievances, disciplinary action etc.
- Encourage and elect the people who want to genuinely represent people in the business and step up in the workplace; these people are loyal and employers need to support them.
- This should immediately reduce the number of Union reps on-site, as they do not represent the ordinary person anymore.
- Introduce brand builders and talk to people in groups as it’s all about the people. Employers need to get reps working with brand builders to widen the engagement profile and keep employees aware of what’s going on in the workplace and address any issues that they aren’t clear on.
Engage with your people
- Direct engagement is key; it’s all about the people and not about the unions. Directly engage with people as you can’t beat face to face contact, which will hopefully reduce the number of disputes through direct engagement.
- Re-direct spend to focus more on sustaining engagement around areas of concern for employees and supplying the information they need to understand what’s happening in the business.
- Reduce the money organisations pay to facilitate union offers and use it instead to interact with the people.
- Line managers need to speak to their people and keep them informed of ongoing issues and not spend their time trying to convince employees not to join unions.
- If managers do not have the capacity to communicate directly with their people, set up hotlines instead where people can easily access information on grievances, disciplinary cases etc.
Impact on Trade Unions
- Trade unions play an important role, however, when working people’s lives are being disrupted by strike action, it is only fair that these new thresholds result in having to have the support by the majority of union members.
- Unions need to change their membership offering as the world has changed since the 1970s and they arguably no longer represent the needs of people today. Unions need to reinvent what they want to do as many businesses feel that they lack relevance in today’s world.
- Unions are not getting the empathy that was portrayed previously.
- Unions have got to be seen balloting once every two weeks and the introduction of this mandate will make them think more before rushing out.
In conclusion, this Act should significantly reduce the disruption caused by strikes on millions of people. It will force Trade Unions to reinvent themselves as they don’t seem to be receiving the same degree of empathy as they once did. What’s more, this new mandate is likely to result in a power-shift, which again will be a catalyst to urge them to think differently. Public sector employers will need to focus on directly engaging with their people to limit the need for industrial action by keeping their people well-informed on issues that are on-going within the business.