Employees providing essential public services will only be able to take lawful industrial action if the vote has the backing of at least 40% of eligible trade union members. The current rule only requires a majority of those voting to approve the action. That means that there can be a vote to strike when there is a small turnout provided the 50% threshold is reached. There will also now need to be a minimum 50% turnout in a successful strike ballot. This also assumes that the appropriate balloting procedures have been complied with.
Of equal, if possibly not greater significance, is the proposal to allow employers to use agency staff to provide strike cover for the essential public services. In some cases a major reason for bringing employers to the bargaining table is their concern over the level of disruption that may be caused. If employers are now going to be able to bring in agency workers then the threat of a strike could become a blunt instrument if cover can be provided.
The precise details of the proposed reforms will only become clear later this month. For example it is not entirely clear which employers will fall under the banner of "providing essential public services". It might not simply be limited to employees working in the public sector.
There has been a move in recent years for employees to take short, sharp strike action rather than engage in a protracted dispute. Part of the reason is that the loss of income can result in great hardship to those on strike. Employers who may benefit from these reforms will no doubt start to consider devising strategies to counter the impact of such industrial action if they can use agency workers.
It remains to be seen whether the Government goes further in reforming the law of industrial action. In October 2014 Bruce Carr QC published his report which was initially intended to provide recommendations for the Government to consider in any future reform of the law. However, in August 2014 Mr Carr indicated that it had become impracticable for him to make such recommendations given the political environment. The final version of the report summarised the current legal framework and the evidence which he had collected. His report commented on the fact that there was little input from the trade union side and that no real conclusion could be reached because of a lack of balanced evidence which could be said to justify future reforms. The Government might now revisit this issue given its clear majority in the Commons.
Some observers will be watching to see if the Government takes an equally robust approach and implements the recommendation made by the Scottish Affairs Committee sitting in Westminster which reported that there should be a public inquiry into the blacklisting of employees. This relates to workers in the construction industry, many of whom appeared on a blacklist because of their alleged trade union activities. The committee's report, published in March, stated that its recommendation should be treated as a priority once the election was decided.
For further details see - Shining a light on blacklisting.