LRD Booklets May 2018

Law at Work 2018



[pages 15-16]

This 30th edition of Law at Work is published at a time of almost unprecedented political and economic uncertainty, as the UK navigates its exit from the European Union (EU). Workers’ rights are at risk under these conditions and trade unionists need a good understanding of those rights.

The TUC continues to lobby for a Brexit deal that prioritises jobs, investment, living standards and public services. In particular, the TUC is backing a resolution agreed by the European Parliament in March 2018 that any deal must include a commitment to a level playing field for workers’ rights. This reflects prime minister Theresa May’s own promise, made shortly after taking office, to honour workers’ rights. The TUC has invited May to deliver on her promise by providing a clear, early undertaking in the Brexit negotiations. 

Unions have been fighting hard to protect the interests of workers and their families against this background. In the context of employment rights, the most lasting contribution has undoubtedly been UNISON’s landmark Supreme Court ruling, securing the abolition of employment tribunal fees following a lengthy battle. This ruling has huge practical and constitutional significance (see Chapter 1). 

Events of the last 12 months have also shed some light on the likely impact of the Trade Union Act 2016 (TUA 16), which introduced further restrictions on the right to strike (see Chapter 6). Evidence is building that the TUA 16 is not curtailing unions’ ability to strike. Rather, as experts predicted, it is changing the shape of industrial disputes and increasing their intensity. In particular, the need to meet higher turnout and ballot thresholds (see page 174) is producing more focused, well-supported and harder fought disputes, especially now that “not voting” is a vote against the strike. In addition, an inevitable consequence of limiting the ballot life to just six months has been the emergence of more “front-loaded”, concerted and effective industrial action, over a shorter period. 

Several judicial rulings have also clarified specific aspects of the TUA 16, for example, what amounts to a “summary” of the dispute on the ballot paper (Argos v Unite, see page 178), or what the ballot paper must say as to the intended period(s) of industrial action (Thomas Cook v BALPA, see page 177). In both cases, the courts have adopted a pragmatic approach, reflecting the reality of industrial disputes. 

As well as strategic litigation, over the last year unions have led campaigning on issues such as family rights, race equality, sexual harassment and equal pay. Individual unions have also been active up and down the country taking cases to protect the rights of members. With the abolition of tribunal fees, the threat of a tribunal claim is once again a meaningful deterrent and an effective means of securing positive change at work. 

About Law at Work 2018 

Law at Work is designed as an essential tool for negotiators, reps and members, and as a means for trade unionists to keep up-to-date with employment law changes. This revised and updated edition provides the basic information reps need to understand the law, to make their case as clearly as possible to their employer and to win further victories for their members through negotiation and persuasion. Law at Work is supported by an advice line available to LRD-affiliated organisations.

Unlike most other employment law guides, LRD’s Law at Work examines the law from the perspective of trade unions and workers. While not designed to enable an individual or union rep to take a claim right through the court process, it indicates where the relevant law can be found, highlights what has changed and what has stayed the same, and provides up-to-date examples of the law in action.
The LRD’s Case Law at Work series of booklets provides case summaries in greater detail and can be read as a companion to this booklet. 

Most trade unions offer their members a legal advice service and any member or rep contemplating taking a legal case should contact their union first. In some unions, tribunal cases will be handled internally at district, regional or even head office level. This booklet does not contain individual legal advice and must not be relied on as such. 

Law at Work 2018 refers to the legislation as it applies to England, Wales and Scotland (although there are some variations in Scotland). However, many of the principles also apply in Northern Ireland, which has its own legislation but with a broadly similar structure. Two important differences worth highlighting are that changes to the TUPE regime made in January 2014 (see Chapter 12) do not apply in Northern Ireland, and that the Trade Union Act 2016 (see Chapter 6) will not be implemented in Northern Ireland.