What do I need to know about industrial action and trade unions?

What do I need to know about industrial action and trade unions?

Industrial action usually occurs when members of a trade union are involved in a dispute with their employer that cannot be resolved by negotiation. The trade union will ask its members whether they wish to take action over the dispute.

Forms of industrial action

Workers usually take industrial action by refusing to work altogether or refusing to do work in the way theiremployment contractsays they should.

There are two main forms of industrial action:

  • strike – where workers refuse to work for the employer
  • action short of a strike – where workers take actions such as go-slows, or bans on overtime or call-outs

On some, relatively rare, occasions, an employer may lock-out workers during a dispute. A lock-out is where the employer stops workers from working or returning to work.

Calling for industrial action

If a trade union is thinking of calling industrial action over a dispute it must first decide which of its members affected by the dispute it wants to ask to take part in the action. This may be all of the members affected or just some of them. The trade union must then ask the members it wishes to take part whether they want to take industrial action. The trade union must do this by holding a postal ballot.

When you are balloted on industrial action the voting paper must ask whether you are prepared to take part ineither:

  • a strike
  • industrial action short of a strike

It can ask both of these questions.

The trade union is only allowed to call for a strike if the majority of those voting answer yes to the first question. It may only call for industrial action short of a strike if the majority of those voting answer yes to the second question. If both questions are asked and a majority answers yes to both, the trade union can decide which type of action it calls for.

The trade union must tell all its members who were entitled to vote in the ballot what the voting figures were.

A trade union calls for industrial action by telling the members it wants to take part when and how action is to be taken. The call must be made by a person or committee with proper authority and the voting paper for the ballot must have said who this is.

You should be allowed to vote in secret without interference froma trade union or its officials. However, mosttrade unions will tell their affected members about the nature of the dispute and the reasons why they think industrial action may be needed to resolve it ahead of a ballot.

Taking industrial action

If you are a trade union member, you can choose whether you wish to take part in the industrial action your trade union has called. Your trade union must not discipline you for choosing not to take part in industrial action.

If you are disciplined by your trade union for not taking part in industrial action or for crossing a picket line, you can complain to an Employment Tribunal.

  • Your right to join, or not join, a trade union

Avoiding industrial action

Industrial action should only be taken if it is not possible to resolve a dispute by other means, as it can be costly and damaging to both sides. There are likely to be formal arrangements for resolving disputes, usually involving your trade union.

It is generallygood practice to exhaust the steps in any dispute resolution arrangements before industrial action is taken.

Sometimes it may be sensible to bring in outside help. Advisors from Acas (the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) can help employers and trade unions to resolve disputes in a number of different ways.

  • Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)

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