Trade Unions can ballot members to determine if they would be willing to undertake industrial action. The process is governed by legislation under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. There are some differences in how the ballot process is undertaken and laid out in Northern Ireland, and the rest of Great Britain. The legislative process requires an independent scrutineer to be involved if there are greater than 50 members involved. This article describes the processes and responsibilities of the Trade Union and the Independent Scrutineer in delivering an industrial action ballot.
Notice of ballot (Union responsibility)
Sent to the Employer and must arrive 7 days before the ballot opens as a minimum. It can be sent by any means (Post, email, fax, courier, etc.) and must include:
- A statement that Union intends to hold a ballot
- Ballot open date
- Categories, workplace, no. of employees concerned (with workings) and categories or workplaces specific to employees
Ballots (Scrutineer responsibility)
The employer must receive the a sample ballot paper no later than 3 days before ballot opens,. All ballots must be posted out and have a pre-paid address envelope for the return of the ballot. The ballot period is not defined under the legislation, but best practice is to open it for 7 days (1st Class post) or 14 days (2nd Class post), and it is also best practice to use a certificate of posting. The result of the ballot is needed within 4 weeks of the ballot closing.
Results (Scrutineers responsibility)
Ballot results must be sent to all voters and employers as soon as reasonably practical to do so, and include details of:
- the number of individuals entitled to vote in the ballot. (GB only)
- the number of votes cast in the ballot.
- the number of individuals answering “Yes” to the required question (or each question).
- the number of individuals answering “No” to the required question (or each question).
- the number of spoiled or otherwise invalid voting papers returned.
- whether or not the number of votes cast in the ballot is at least 50% of the number of individuals who were entitled to vote in the ballot. (GB only)
- in important public services, whether the number of individuals answering “yes” to the question (or each question) is at least 40% of the number of individuals entitled to vote in the ballot. (GB only)
Scrutineers report (Scrutineers responsibility)
This report must be produced as soon as reasonably practicable after the date of the ballot, and in any event not later than four weeks after that date.
The union must provide a copy of the scrutineer’s report to any union member who was entitled to vote in the ballot, or the employer of any such member, who requests a copy within six months of the date of the ballot. The copy must be supplied as soon as reasonably practicable and free of charge (or on payment of a reasonable fee specified by the union).
Notice of industrial action (Union responsibility)
The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 sets out the legal requirements and states that “if the union decides to authorise or endorse industrial action following a ballot, it must take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure that any employer who it is reasonable for the union to believe employs workers who will be, or have been, called upon to take part in the action receives no less than 14 days, or seven days if so agreed by the union and the employer, before the day specified in the notice as the date on which workers are intended to begin to take part in continuous action or as the first date on which they are intended to take part in discontinuous action a written notice from the union which:
• is given by any officer, official or committee of the union for whose act of inducing industrial action the union is responsible in law
• specifies: (i) whether the union intends the action to be “continuous”
• or “discontinuous”; and (ii) the date on which any of the affected employees are intended to begin to take part in the action (where it is continuous action), or all the dates on which any of them are intended to take part (where it is discontinuous action);
• states that it is a notice given for the purposes of section 234A of the 1992 Act; and contains either:
a) a list of the categories of employee to which the affected employees belong, a list of the workplaces at which they work and figures (together with an explanation of how they were arrived at) showing the total number of affected employees, the number of them in each of the categories listed and the number of them that work at each of the workplaces listed; or
b) where some or all of the employees are employees from whose wages the employer makes deductions representing payments to the union, a practice commonly known as “checkoff” or “DOCAS”, other alternatives apply. In such circumstances the notice must contain either:
i. those same lists, figures and explanations as set out in (a); or
ii. such information as will enable the employer to readily deduce the total number of affected employees, the categories of employee to which they belong, the number of employees concerned in each of those categories, the workplaces at which the affected employees work and the number of them at each of these workplaces.”
Whilst the process is legislated it is also known and publicly available, meaning that all stakeholders know what the process is, what should happen when and who needs to undertake which aspect.
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.