UK regulation of strike ballots and notices – Moving beyond ‘democracy’?

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Abstract

From the 1980s onwards, the rhetoric of ‘democracy’ was used to justify industrial relations reform in the United Kingdom (UK), including the incremental addition of balloting and notice requirements for industrial action. The most recent Trade Union Act 2016 (UK) (‘TUA’) is remarkable, not only for more extensive balloting and notice requirements that aim substantially to reduce industrial action, but also a shift to a more obviously economic justificatory orientation. This blatant shift from principle to pragmatism can be linked to various financial concerns. One example is the Government’s appreciation of the potential economic shocks that could follow the ‘Brexit’ referendum as to whether Britain should remain in or leave the European Union (EU), which led to some concessions made to the UK trade union movement so as not to alienate an ally for the remainder of the campaign. Another, examined more fully below, is the determination to reduce the budget deficit following the financial crisis. Additionally, and more worryingly, there is evidence that the TUA reforms follow a narrow economic neo-liberal agenda, planned some time before election of the Conservative Government, which aims to silence trade union protest in the UK.

This article begins by explaining the current UK legal regime regarding strike ballots and notices, noting the ways in which the TUA has modified the relevant rules. The democratic justifications given for introduction of this statutory matrix of balloting requirements in the 1980s and subsequent amendments in the 1990s are then considered. Finally, the eclipse of ‘democratic’ by ‘economic’ reasons for the TUA reforms is examined, alongside the future trajectory of legislative regulation of balloting and notice for industrial action in the UK.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)226-242
Number of pages15
JournalAustralian Journal of Labour Law
Volume29
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2016

Keywords

  • democracy
  • strike
  • industrial action
  • ballots
  • economic

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