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Duties of trade unions – leadership positions


What is a trade union?

A Trade Union is a membership-based organisation mainly made up of workers with roles and responsibilities of leadership positions set by the law. One of its main objectives must include the regulation of relations between workers and employers or employers’ associations. An employers’ association is a body of employers, generally from the same sector of the economy, whose principal purposes include the regulation of relations between employers in that sector and workers or trade unions. Trade unions have duties and obligations under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TURLCA 1992) and case law.


Changes brought by the Trade Union Act 2016

The Trade Union Act 2016 amends the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation Act) Act 1992 (TULRCA 1992)as follows:

  • Sections 2 and 3 set out the requirements for minimum ballot thresholds – a 50% turnout in all industrial action ballots, and a 40% support requirement in favour of industrial action for specified important public services in six sectors.
  • Section 4 requires an independent review on the delivery of secure methods of electronic balloting in relation to industrial action ballots and for the Secretary of State to publish a response to the review. It also provides for a piloting scheme. Section 4 does not amend legislation but introduces a provision which requires the Secretary of State to commission an independent review into industrial action ballots.
  • Sections 5, 6 and 7 set out information requirements relating to industrial action: the information that must be included in the ballot paper; and information to be given to union members and to the Certification Officer following a ballot.
  • Sections 8 and 9 specify the arrangements for the timing and duration of industrial action. Section 8 requires two weeks’ notice of any action to be given to an employer unless the union and the employer mutually agree to 7 days’ notice. Section 9 provides that a ballot mandate for industrial action expires after six months or after nine months where there is a mutual agreement between the employer and the union.
  • Section 10 sets out requirements on unions for the supervision of picketing.
  • Sections 11 and 12 concern political funds. Section 11 provides that persons who join a trade union after commencement shall be required to make an active choice before contributing to a union’s political fund. Section 12 places requirements on unions to include details of expenditure from political funds in the union’s annual return to the Certification Officer;
  • Sections 13 and 14 create regulation-making powers in respect of paid time off for trade union duties and activities in the public sector;
  • Section 15 restricts the deduction of union subscriptions (“check off”) from wages by relevant public sector employers where:-
  • workers do not have the option to pay subscriptions through other means and;
  • arrangements have not been made for a union to make reasonable payments to the employer for the making of those deductions.
  • there is a regulation making power to specify who is a relevant public sector employer;

Leadership Positions

A union must make sure that a person who has been convicted of an offence relating to trade union obligations does not hold one of a number of specified leadership positions. The disqualification is either five or ten years depending on the nature of the offence – S45B TULRCA 1992

Under section 46 (1) TULRCA 1992, the union must make sure that no one remains in a specified leadership position for more than five years without re-election.

  • The rules may specify a shorter period for which a person may hold one of the specified positions.
  • The rules can specify that a person may not be re-elected to such a position having served the maximum term under the rules.

A person who is not re-elected to a specified leadership position can continue in a hand-over role for up to six months even if it takes his tenure over the maximum five year period – section 59 TULRCA 1992

Where an official in a specified leadership position is nearing retirement age, the requirement for re-election every five years will not be necessary in certain specified circumstances – section 58 TULRCA 1992

A new union is allowed one year from its formation before the statutory requirement to undertake leadership elections is imposed – section 57 TULRCA 1992

Under section 118(6) TULRCA 1992, a trade union that consists mainly of constituent or affiliated organisations, or representatives of such organisations, will be exempt from the leadership election requirements if;

  • it has no individual members
  • it has no individual members other than merchant seamen who are mostly ordinarily resident outside the UK

Updated: 01/03/2020

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