1. What is happening
  2. What is at stake for you
  3. The Trade Union Bill
  4. What you can do
  5. Appendix: junior doctors’ dispute 


1. What is happening

The TUC has produced a video explaining why the "right to strike" is so important to workers in different industries.
The third and final reading of the Trade Union Bill is in Parliament on Tuesday 10 November. The Trade Union Co-ordinating Group has called a protest in Parliament Square in the evening from 6pm.

If you can't get to Parliament, you can write to your MP.

2. What is at stake?

Currently, there is a great democratic imbalance between employers and employees.
Employers need no democratic mandate to decide to hold down pay or make staff redundant. UCL did not ballot staff over its plans to change Statute 18, or over the Stratford Plan (UCL-East). USS did not ballot its members over changes to our pensions.
On the other hand, trade unions like UCU have to carry out a lengthy and complex ballot process every time we wish colleagues to take strike action or action short of a strike (ASOS). (Even a "work to contract" call may be classed as ASOS, and require an industrial action ballot.)
Taking strike action is not easy. Currently, all trade unions must take the following steps before calling any members to take action:
  1. notify the employer of a dispute, and provide a reasonable opportunity to respond;
  2. issue a formal notice of intention to ballot for industrial action to the employer and serve a "ballot matrix" identifying numbers of union members to be balloted and their normal place of work to the employer; 
  3.  a week later, commence a paper ballot process of all eligible members to be carried out by an external scruitinised ballot (usually by the Electoral Reform Society), this ballot would normally take 2-4 weeks;
  4. obtain a majority of those balloted for the industrial action;
  5. notify the employer of an intention to take strike action or action short of a strike, with a further week's notice before action is taken.
This is not a simple process. It offers the employer a number of avenues to seek an injunction preventing action being taken, and it takes at least a month from the notification of a dispute to the first date of industrial action - in some cases this can be as much as two months.

Over this period there is no impediment on an employer in implementing disputed changes.

3. The Trade Union Bill

The origin of many of these laws limiting the right to strike can be found in Margaret Thatcher's Government of the late 1980s. These laws have been further restricted, mostly incrementally, by a number of legal judgments.

The complexity of these stages, the cost of carrying them out, and the protracted time period involved, are designed to make it very difficult for unions to take industrial action.

But the current Conservative Government is not satisfied with the current restrictions on the "right to strike" (understood as including all other forms of industrial action). They have proposed several new restrictions, including:
  • Introducing a threshold of 50% turnout for industrial action ballots and – for "important public services" – a requirement of at least 40% of all eligible voters in favour of action.
  • Lifting the ban on using agency workers to replace permanent staff during strikes – so employing people with the express purpose of breaking a strike will be lawful.
  • Requiring unions to inform police and employers of strike plans 14 days in advance (from 7 days).
The first of these conditions sets out a "double democratic threshold" of a 50% turnout and a 50% majority vote, a mandate which few MPs (and very few local councillors) could claim.

This threshold will make it more difficult for UCU to take national action over pay and pensions. When we balloted UCL members over redundancies in 2010 we had a 65% turnout. In all the national ballots since the formation of UCU, turnout levels were below 50% (averaged across the country). The vague reference to "important public services" can be extended - and in any case, we are all important!

Opposition to the trade union bill is not limited to the trade unions or the Labour Party. Conservative David Davis MP and Liberal Democrat Vince Cable have both spoken out against the bill. Alongside Liberty and Amnesty International, the Chartered Institute of Personel and Development (the 'trade body' for HR professionals) have critcised it.

4. What you can do

Protest. The third and final reading of the Trade Union Bill is in Parliament on Tuesday 10 November. The Trade Union Co-ordinating Group has called a protest in Parliament Square in the evening from 6pm.
Write to your MP--More information and links.
More background and ideas on what to do.

UCL UCU Executive Committee
Nov 2016



The background to the Junior Doctors dispute is summarised by the BMA.

Colleagues can sign the petition to the Government in opposing the contract changes.

Colleagues can also sign the petition to express support for junior doctors taking strike action against the new contract.


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