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Leaders UK and Australia

UK government introduces new anti-union laws

In a sign of the times, the Conservative UK government has introduced new anti-union legislation said to be the worst since the Thatcher era 30 years ago.

The proposed laws will impose new limits on the ability of workers to take strike action. The Trade Union Bill will also introduce tougher laws for picketing, greater regulation of unions, and enable union members to opt in or out of paying subscriptions to political activities, like supporting the Labour Party.

Under the proposed amendments to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 strike ballots will have to meet a "turnout requirement" of 50% of union members eligible to vote.  

This requirement already applies in Australia of course but the UK bill will introduce a further and much higher threshold for workers in certain industries, including health, education, firefighting, transport, border security and energy.

Industrial action will only be legal in these areas if ballots achieve a turnout of at least 50%, plus 40% support from all eligible union members.

In other words at least 400 workers out of a group of 1000 would have to vote YES, not just a simple majority of the 50% (or more) who participated in the ballot (e.g.251 +).

The Trade Union Bill also seeks to:

  • remove the current prohibition on labour hire companies providing replacement labour during strikes;
  • impose a four-month time limit for industrial action, so that mandates are always recent;
  • require all unions, not just those affiliated to UK Labour Party, to ask each existing member whether they wish to "opt-in" to pay political levies and then repeat the question every five years.

The move against political donations is in line with recent moves in NSW to try to limit the amount unions can contribute to election campaigns. To date these moves have been unsuccessful but they can be expected to be given a new lease of life by the current Royal Commission into unions whose purpose is, among other things, to weaken the support the ALP receives from the Australian union movement.

Source: Workplace Express.

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