Trade unions play a critical role in representing the interests of workers and negotiating with employers to ensure fair treatment and compensation. Under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, Trade Unions must appoint an Independent Scrutineer for statutory ballot processes. Scrutineers can only be selected from a UK Government approved and published list of providers. Historically Trade Unions have settled on one specific supplier to use for all their ballot processes and may have a long-standing relationship with that supplier.
Trade Unions need to consider the risks associated with using a single supplier for their ballots and the issues they may face if that supplier does not have the capacity, is bought by another company, loses credibility in running election processes, is not approved to provide Scrutineer services any longer, goes out of business, etc.
Independent Scrutineer list
The list of Independent Scrutineers that Trade Unions can choose from is publicly provided (The Trade Union Ballots and Elections – Independent Scrutineer Qualifications – Amendment – Order 2017).
Deciding which Scrutineer to use
The decision of which scrutineer to use for a trade union’s statutory ballot process is an important one as the scrutineer plays a crucial role in ensuring the fairness and impartiality of the ballot. Various processes are used and the decision in most cases is made by the National Executive Council (NEC), General Secretary or other administrative members.
The decision to continue with a Scrutineer that maybe they have always used for many years, maybe a very attractive proposition and easy decision to make, however in terms of good governance, risk mitigation and business continuity may not necessarily provide cover in the event of a low probability issue occurring and another Scrutineer being needed to assist at short notice.
Ballots and elections are critical in the democratic process of operating a Trade Union. It is prudent with all business processes to have a backup plan in the unlikely event of failure or other issues arising. Therefore, having experience and a working relationship with at least 2 Scrutineers is preferable with shared workloads being given to each.
This benefits the Trade Union by making sure they know how each Scrutineer operates, the processes and procedures are well tested, and if one Scrutineer cannot provide services then the other should be able to step in easily and effectively.
Therefore, before making a seemingly easy decision to continue with a sole Scrutineer, decision-makers may need a business case for considering an alternative, with some justification and evidence to ensure the smooth running of the Trade Union.
Ballot and election processes are critical to running a democratic Trade Union, giving all members a voice and the ability to determine the key topics to focus on and allowing them to make key decisions.
Best practices and good governance in running any organisation are to ensure business continuity and mitigate any risks. For critical ballot and election processes, the Trade Union should consider selecting at least two independent scrutineers from the BEIS-approved list to accommodate for any unforeseen issue that may arise. Establishing a working relationship with them, so that in the unlikely event that issues arise the Trade Union has coverage to continue with their democratic processes.
Any new Scrutineer should be assessed for production and operation capability, with due diligence undertaken assessing ISO standards for quality and data security along with determining the capacity, knowledge and skill set.
It is recommended that any new Scrutineer should undertake a smaller election process at the outset so that internal Trade Unions staff and scrutineer can determine how they will work together to undertake smooth election and ballots moving forward.
There may also be added benefits to the Trade Union as some Scrutineers offer a portfolio of services outside of the Statutory requirements like emerging digital solutions that may be useful and effective for other Trade Union processes.
The trade union should consider the following factors when deciding which scrutineer to use:
1. Expertise: The trade union should look for a scrutineer with expertise in conducting statutory ballot processes and a proven track record of conducting fair and impartial ballots.
2. Cost: The trade union should consider the cost of the scrutineer’s services and ensure that they are within their budget.
3. Security measures: The trade union should ensure that the scrutineer has robust security measures in place to protect the confidentiality and integrity of the ballot results.
4. Ease of use: The trade union should consider the ease of use of the scrutineer’s systems and processes and ensure that they are user-friendly for both the trade union and its members.
5. Reliability: The trade union should look for a scrutineer that is reliable and has a good reputation for delivering results promptly.
6. Reputation: The trade union should consider the reputation of the scrutineer and their experience in conducting statutory ballot processes for trade unions.
7. Contract terms: The trade union should carefully review the contract terms with the scrutineer to ensure that they are aligned with the trade union’s needs and expectations.
There is no legislation, restriction, or no reason why a Trade Union should move forward with a single Scrutineer. It makes sense to cover any risk with critical business processes the Trade Union undertakes, it is recognised best practice and relates to good governance to do so. Democratic elections and ballots that Trade Unions undertake are key to the running of the organisation and as such should be covered even if the likelihood and risk are low.
Having a single scrutineer can create risks if the primary scrutineer is unavailable or unable to perform their duties, so having backup scrutineers in place can help mitigate this risk. Having a backup plan in place is a good governance practice, as it helps to ensure that the trade union’s democratic elections and ballots are conducted fairly and impartially, even in the event of unexpected circumstances.
Moreover, having multiple scrutineers also provides the trade union with the option to choose the best fit for their specific needs and budget, and to periodically assess and potentially switch between different providers if necessary. This helps to ensure that the trade union is receiving the best possible service from their scrutineers.
UK Engage is a BEIS-approved Independent Scrutineer for Trade Union ballots and offers fully managed secure online voting solutions for consultative ballot processes and assurer services. Contact us at 0161 209 4808 to discuss your needs.