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UK Labour Law Update

  • United Kingdom
  • Labor law and trade union issues - HR e-briefs

30-09-2015

Welcome to our September UK labour law update. This edition contains the following content:

UK labour law news

• The Trade Union Bill
• Trade union about-turn on the EU referendum
• Industrial action: recent statistics
• Unison’s Dave Prentis up for re-election this autumn
• Eversheds’ Annual Labour Relations Conference, London Stock Exchange, 22 October 2015. Speakers include Sir Brendan Barber, Alan Johnson MP, John Hannett and Peter Cheese with case studies from Barclays and United Utilities.

UK labour case law update

• Moyer Lee and others v Cofely Workplace Ltd: the EAT clarifies the trigger for a staff information and consultation forum.
 R (Boots Management Services Ltd) v Central Arbitration Committee and others: this statutory recognition case returns to the Court of Appeal in October.

UK labour law news

The Trade Union Bill
The Trade Union Bill, currently progressing through Parliament, will tighten strike ballot requirements by introducing a new threshold for voter turnout, with an additional ballot support threshold applying in ‘important public services’ (health, education, fire, transport, some nuclear, border security). The changes are expected to be implemented by the summer of 2016.

Other changes are also proposed, including tighter controls on picketing, longer advance notice of strikes, changes to the ballot voting paper, a need to reballot with ongoing disputes, greater scrutiny of facility time and the removal of ‘check off’ in the public sector, as well as extending the role of the Certification Officer. Separately, the Government is expected to change the law to permit agency workers to replace striking staff. For more information on the Trade Union Bill, read our briefing.

Trade unions have, as expected, strongly criticised the Bill and demonstrations are planned. According to the media, the GMB's Sir Paul Kenny said he would be prepared to go to prison if the picketing proposals become law, Unison's Dave Prentis said his union would withdraw from partnership working in the NHS if the Bill is implemented and Unite has changed its Objects (part of its Rule Book), thereby removing an internal obstacle to organising unlawful action.

There is the possibility that some changes will be made to the Bill to secure Parliamentary approval and to avoid delayed implementation next year. We will keep you updated.

Trade union about-turn on the EU referendum
Delegates at the TUC Congress have backed a statement warning the Government that it may not  support a pro-EU position during campaigning for the EU referendum, and may even campaign to leave.

Previously strongly pro-EU, this is a marked change. It reflects, firstly, union criticism of some recent EU actions (including imposing austerity on Greece) and, secondly, a concern that the Prime Minister’s renegotiation with the EU, prior to the referendum, may result in a dilution of EU workers’ rights. The statement says that any such dilution will result in pressure “to put TUC resources and support in the referendum behind a vote to leave the European Union.”

Industrial action: recent statistics
The latest ONS Labour Disputes statistics report that 788,000 working days were lost to labour disputes in 2014, compared with 444,000 in 2013. The 2014 figure is more than the average in both the 2000s and 1990s and is mainly attributable to a number of large scale public sector strikes. Unsurprisingly, pay was the principal cause of labour disputes, similar to previous years.

Unison’s Dave Prentis up for re-election this autumn
Unison, Britain’s second largest trade union, is currently in the process of electing its next General Secretary. The nomination period closes in October, with the ballot taking place during November and the results issued on 17 December 2015. Given difficult public sector employee relations in the context of ongoing spending cuts, any change of direction in Unison would be significant. Unison’s NEC is supporting the re-election of Dave Prentis and, at this stage, it seems likely that he will be successful.

UK labour case law update

Moyer Lee and others v Cofely Workplace Ltd
For employees to trigger the setting up of a statutory staff forum, requiring the employer to inform and consult them about economic and employment-related matters in accordance with the ICE Regulations, at least 10% of the employees in an undertaking must make a valid request.

The EAT in this case has confirmed that this means 10% of the employer’s workforce, not 10% of employees in a single workplace or business unit. An undertaking is a separately incorporated legal entity, rather than an organisational entity. This decision confirms existing BIS guidance, but is nonetheless welcome to ensure clarity.

R (Boots Management Services Ltd) v Central Arbitration Committee and others
This case is listed before the Court of Appeal during October 2015. The appeal follows the High Court decision that “sweetheart” deals with non-independent trade unions may act to block a trade union’s statutory recognition application, but that this strategy may not work in the long term if employees can be persuaded to seek derecognition of the “sweetheart” union.

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