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Latest Union Strike Ballots ‘Reinforce Call For Legislation Reform’

Employment Law Expert Comments On Recent Events


Further ballots in which members of three trade unions have voted in favour of strike action once again demonstrate why calls continue for legislation in the area to be reformed, according to an employment law expert at Irwin Mitchell.

GMB, Ucatt and now Unite have become the latest unions to confirm that, following ballots, their members are supporting industrial action in relation to the government’s proposed public sector pension reforms.

The result means that workers in local government, the NHS and the civil service, alongside building maintenance and infrastructure workers, are likely to strike on November 30th.

Tom Flanagan, Partner and head of employment at Irwin Mitchell, said the number of trade unions backing the strikes continues to increase, but issued a warning that the votes in favour of action are not necessarily as representative of the organisation’s membership as first seems.

He explained: "We are now seeing a constant stream of ballot results in the public sector pension dispute.  Very few of the ballots have a significant turnout and virtually none, apart from a few very small unions, have more than 50% of the potential voting population voting in favour of strike action and often a lot less.

"We are seeing very strong statements by unions about the power of their ballots, however the Unison turnout was only 29% and even with a 78% yes vote that means that only 23% of voting population voting yes - less than a quarter of the membership.

"The GMB union's turnout was only 33% whilst Ucatt's was 27%. Even with around an 80% yes vote each this was only 26% and 22% respectively of the potential voters.

“The latest results from Unite show a 31% turnout which with 75% voting yes means that only around a quarter of the potential voters supported the strike.

"This is not a ringing endorsement of industrial action and only reinforces the call for ballot legislation reform.”

Tom Flanagan added that the arguments that reform of industrial action ballots in relation to thresholds would make their treatment inconsistent with local and national elections does not survive scrutiny.

He said: “The stock response to calls for reform of industrial action ballots in relation to a minimum threshold in favour of action is that these turnouts are similar to those at local and national elections and treating those elections in a similar way would render the democratic process inoperable. 

“The reply to that is there would be no need to treat those elections in a similar way.  The difference is that in an election if people don't vote, they will still have a representative. They may not have their voice heard but, as long as voting is not compulsory that is a matter for them.

"It is a different thing altogether to have a business or the whole country brought to a halt by a vote in favour of doing so of a small percentage of the voting population which is an even smaller percentage of the actual workforce."