25 July 2012 #Employment
The government is seeking an injunction to block strike action by thousands of public sector workers on the eve of the Olympics. The Home Office has said that it believes there were "procedural errors" in the PCS union ballot and that it will be requesting an injunction in the High Court today. If successful, the union would be obliged to re-ballot its members, delaying the strike.
The PCS is one of the largest unions in the UK with around 250,000 public sector members. Its members, including Immigration and passport workers at Heathrow and other airports, are due to go on strike on Thursday in protest against job cuts. The union says that 8,500 Home Office jobs are at risk as a result of government cuts, including those at passport control and immigration offices.
The union will challenge the injunction, arguing that they conducted the strike ballot legally. Apparently 57% of PCS members taking part in the ballot voted for industrial action, although ministers have said that only 12% of total union members actually participated.
The key legal question for an employer threatened with a strike is whether the industrial action has been lawfully organised by a trade union.
Under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 certain strict conditions which must be fulfilled for industrial action to be lawful, including:
The union must give notice to the employer(s) of any employees who are entitled to vote in the ballot.
If an employer thinks that the industrial action is unlawful then one option is to apply for an injunction to stop it. This can be a costly exercise and importantly legal proceedings must be commenced as soon as possible to put the employer in the strongest legal position.
Another option open to the employer is negotiating with the trade union. However, as the above case shows, this is not always possible or practicable. In such unusual and time critical circumstances, where the government are arguably in a low bargaining position in relation to the PSC due to the impending Olympic games, an injunction may be the most effective and speedy solution for the government.