Clause 8 - Expiry of mandate for industrial action four months after date of ballot

Trade Union Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 22 October 2015.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 11:30, 22 October 2015

I beg to move amendment 75, in clause 8, page 4, line 16, after “Subsection 1” insert

“and section 233(1) (a) of the 1992 Act, as amended by this Act”.

The amendment would ensure that any re-ballot or renewal of mandate, or the first ballot, is not prejudiced in any way by any unofficial action that may have taken place.

I take on board what you said, Sir Alan, and will attempt to move at a brisk pace to make progress. However, this Bill has very serious implications, and we need to ensure, as the Opposition, that it receives adequate scrutiny, particularly given many of our objections to it.

Amendment 75 is a probing one, to understand the implications of unofficial actions that may have taken place for a union’s ability to conduct subsequent ballots. The law currently prevents a union from running a ballot for industrial action if its members have previously taken unofficial action, or what some would determine “wildcat” action, in a dispute. That can limit a union’s ability to seek to resolve an ongoing trade dispute and ensure that its members’ democratic wishes are given effect. The amendment would ensure that a prior unofficial call to action would not prevent the union from running a subsequent ballot.

Obviously, I do not condone unofficial actions or actions outside the law, but we need to accept that they take place. We have explored many circumstances in our considerations of the Bill in which wildcat action may in fact be encouraged by the Government’s legislation. I do not want that to happen, and I am sure the Government do not want that to happen, but it is a potential consequence.

It is important that we understand the implications of unofficial action for trade union members engaging in legitimate ballots and wanting to have legitimate discussions about action they might take. Will the Minister clarify the impacts of any unofficial action that takes place before a first ballot or between a first ballot and any subsequent reballoting? We discussed the timing of that at great length, but I would like some clarification.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles The Minister for Universities and Science, Minister of State (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills) (Jointly with the Department for Education)

I will endeavour to be as pithy as I can. The merest raised eyebrow on your part, Sir Alan, will cause me to sit down quickly.

I appreciate the shadow Minister’s desire to ensure that the occurrence of any unofficial industrial action does not affect a union’s ability to rely on a mandate that it has legitimately secured or to seek a further such mandate. I hope to provide him with assurance on that point.

In order to have the support of a ballot and for the union therefore to benefit from legal protection, a number of provisions first need to be satisfied, one of which is that industrial action has to be called by a person specified or specifically described in the voting paper—that is to say, a union. That ensures that any industrial action not under the control of the union can be subject to legal action by an employer, which is necessary to prohibit so-called wildcat strikes and to prevent such disputes from snowballing. The fact that unofficial industrial action is not legally protected does not affect a union’s ability to secure a valid ballot mandate or to call official industrial action on the basis of a valid ballot mandate. That is the current position, and the Bill does not alter that. I trust that that assists the hon. Gentleman, and I ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills)

I thank the Minister for that clarification. It is helpful to have it read into the record. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Division number 17 Decision Time — Clause 8 - Expiry of mandate for industrial action four months after date of ballot

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.