Two years ago, TUC delegates backed the call for a Trade Union Rights and Freedoms Bill. The Bill aimed to simplify the procedures relating to ballots and notices so that a democratic decision to strike by workers could not be overturned by a judges’ forensic examination of technical legal errors. 

The Bill failed to reach the statute book and injunctions are increasingly hitting unions hard. 

The Lawful Industrial Action (Minor Errors) Bill (LIAM) was introduced by John McDonnell in June 2010. Like the Trade Union Freedom Bill, LIAM aims to simplify the requirements surrounding industrial action ballots and notices.  The Bill introduces five main improvements:

• Small accidental failures in ballots will be disregarded

• Small accidental failures in notices will be disregarded

• Minor errors in the information about the result of the ballot will be disregarded

• Forensic examination of procedures will be replaced with the concept of “substantial compliance”.

• Evidence will be required that “substantial compliance” has not taken place before an injunction will be granted.

The anti working class economic strategy of the ConDems is clear and we know they have a nasty agenda on employment rights and trade union freedoms. It’s vital the labor movement responds with alternative political, economic and industrial strategies. LIAM provides for “appropriate measures for the protection of workers to engage in industrial action”  - as demanded by the ILO Committee of experts in response to the recent BALPA case. 

If the voice of workers is to be heard in the increasingly bitter, class-divided battle around the distribution of wealth, it’s vital that the Bill gets a second reading on 22nd October.

Carolyn Jones is director of the Institute of Employment Rights

CASE STUDIES:

Employers Vs Unions

Johnston Press v NUJ 

In May 2010 the NUJ had to abandon a strike of journalists when the employer claimed to “employ no journalists”, despite the fact that the Johnston Press website states the company employs 1,900 journalists. The NUJ are pursuing their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Network Rail v RMT 

In April 2010 a High Court injunction was granted to Network Rail citing inconsistencies in the strike ballot.

Metrobus v Unite

In August 2009 the Court of Appeal overturned a 90% UNITE ballot vote in favour of strike action. The Court claimed first, that the union “had not acted as soon as reasonably practicable” in giving bosses the ballot result even though the union received the result on 2nd August and informed Metrobus on 3rd. Second, that on the pre-ballot notice UNITE had stated the employer had 766 on check off (employer kept records) when in effect they had 776.

EDF Energy v RMT 

In 2009 the RMT issued formal strike notice to EDF. The union identified 65 members working in three workplaces but EDF won an injunction because the terminology used to categorise the union wasn’t good enough.

BA v UNITE 

In December 2009 BA Cabin Crew voted to strike by a margin of 92.5% on a ballot turnout of 80% of 12,000. The Court granted BA an injunction on the basis that the ballot included 811 crew who had since taken redundancy despite the fact that if the 811 had been excluded, the vote would still have been 8 to 1 in favour of action.

BA v BALPA 

BALPA had to abandon a high court battle when BA claimed the ballot did not meet European law, suggesting BALPA would be liable for a bill of £1.25 million. BALPA complained to the ILO and in March 2010 the ILO recommended that UK laws  be “reviewed” and appropriate measures considered to protect the right to take industrial action.