union for life

The Trade Union Act kicks in and unions fight back!

The Trade Union Act kicks in and unions fight back!

Prospect members at Tolpuddle festival

Today is a dark day for workers as the majority of the Trade Union Act comes into force.

The Government’s attack on unions through the invidious Trade Union Act is the harshest and most draconian change to collective labour law since the 1980s. 

The Act represents a massive attack on workers and their unions. The media attention has been on new thresholds for industrial action balloting, which will seriously inhibit strike action. But there are a number of other changes in the Act that will have seriously detrimental effects on unions. 

Industrial action

The TU Act introduces a number of changes to the law on industrial action and severely restricts the right to strike. There is:

  • a new requirement for a 50% turnout in industrial action ballots, along with a majority voting in favour, for action to be lawful
  • an additional test for industrial action ballots in ‘important public services’, where 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of action being taken.

Prospect members more than met these targets in two recent industrial action ballots:

  • In the dispute at AWE plc over changes to the pension scheme, 87% of members who took part in the ballot voted in favour of strike action with a turnout of 68%.
  • BECTU sector members working for Picturehouse cinemas in Brixton, Hackney and central London, who are seeking pay increases to match the living wage, voted to back strike action by 97% of those voting, with a turnout of 77%.

Other changes to industrial action rules will require more detail to be given on ballot papers and longer notice to be given to employers.

Unions are already subject to exceptionally onerous rules in conducting a legal strike ballot, providing enormous scope for employers to legally challenge the validity of ballots, putting workers and unions at risk. These further restrictions introduced by the TU Act are wholly unnecessary.

Other provisions of the Act

Other key changes under the Act will mean:

  • further statutory restrictions on how picket lines and protests are organised
  • new members to the union from March 2018 will have to positively opt in to the political fund (rather than having a right to opt out as previously)
  • increased requirements for reporting by unions to the Certification Officer.

And two changes for public sector employers, which are not yet in force as further regulations are required, are:

  • check off in the public sector will only be allowed when the employer agrees and the union pays
  • public sector employers will be required to report on union facility time and there are new reserve powers for facility time to be capped in the future.

The Welsh Assembly is challenging the Government's right to introduce changes that impact on public services in Wales.

See our employment law briefing for more detail and news on the TU Act.

Unions fight back!

There has been an excessive onslaught on workers’ rights over the last five years. The hostile political climate makes a strong union base in the workplace ever more important.

Prospect’s ‘Working for You’ report shows the ability and commitment of Prospect reps to fight back. The report demonstrates and celebrates the work done by union reps and the very real achievements made at local level for members.

The reps report an extraordinary number of successful personal cases and negotiations.

Despite attacks through the law unions remain relevant and effective.

Marion Scovell

Marion Scovell


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