|You are in:||Home> Timeline> 1960-2000>|
Anti-Union Legislation: 1980-2000
Between 1980 and 1993 there were six Acts of Parliament which increasingly restricted unions' ability to undertake lawful industrial action. Secondary action, better known as 'sympathy strikes', was outlawed and picketing was restricted. Ballots were needed for official industrial action from 1984 and these had to be postal from 1993. Although unions have learned to use ballots as part of the negotiating process, they have imposed increasing financial costs, while the requirement to give employers seven days' notice further reduced unions' ability to respond quickly and potentially reduced the effectiveness of any action they took.
Employers could also gain injunctions from the High Court to stop unions undertaking strikes if there was any doubt as to their legality (facilitated by the increasing complexity of strike law). This tactic led to many strikes being abandoned, though if unions persisted they could be charged with contempt of court and fined or even have their assets seized. Injunctions gave employers a more immediate remedy than suing unions for damages - something that became possible again from 1982 (a return to the situation before the 1906 Trade Disputes Act when unions were at the mercy of the courts).
The Conservative government also interfered with the running of unions' internal affairs by compelling certain forms of election for executive committees and general secretaries, irrespective of the traditions of individual unions. It created a so-called Commissioner for the Rights of Trade Union Members (CROTUM, whose functions are now undertaken by the Certification Officer) to encourage members to pursue complaints against their unions.
An attempt to weaken the Labour Party backfired as the new legal requirement on unions to hold Political Fund ballots every ten years (from 1984-85) actually led to an increase in the number of unions holding such funds (though not all of these unions were affiliated to Labour).
The incoming Labour government kept almost every aspect of Conservative trade union law; the new relationship with unions was dubbed 'fairness not favours', as if the right to strike was a favour. The Employment Relations Act 1999 did offer a route to union recognition through applying to the Central Arbitration Committee. As with earlier statutory recognition procedures in the 1970s this has encouraged an increase in voluntary recognition agreements but on a much smaller scale so far compared to that earlier period.
A Chronology of Trade Union Law 1979-2008 is available on the Institute of Employment Rights website: http://www.ier.org.uk/resources/chronology-labour-law-1979-2008
Dave Lyddon, Centre for Industrial Relations, Keele University
© London Metropolitan University | Terms & Conditions