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The Trade Union Act 2016 Explained

The Trade Union Act 2016, which makes a number of changes to the way in which industrial action is organised, came into force on 1 March 2017.

The Act amends the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, including Section 226 on the requirement to hold a ballot before any trade union action.

Under the new regime, a majority vote in favour of industrial action will only be regarded as having the support of a ballot if at least 50 per cent of those entitled to vote did so. Different rules will apply, however, before industrial action in ‘important public services’ can go ahead. These include the health, fire, transport and border security sectors, plus public education provision to those age under 17. In such disputes, a further test is to be applied whereby 40 per cent of all eligible union members must vote in favour of the industrial action for it to be legal.

An overview of the Act and information on further changes can be found here.

Report Into Tribunal Fees Leads To Widespread Criticism

A much anticipated government report into how tribunal fees are affecting the volume of tribunal cases instigated by UK workers has at last been published, and, as suspected, it shows a major decline has occurred since the introduction of the fee system in July 2013. This follows a TUC report issued last year that also showed serious failings by the fee system. 

Without access to a fair hearing, workers have instead explored other means of expression. The report details how the ACAS conciliation service has seen a major rise in workers contacting them for advice on various employment disputes over the past four years. This reveals that a third party outlet where workers can express their concerns is clearly needed.

Unison trade union has condemned the current system as ‘ill-judged’ and believes it has fallen short of its goal of saving taxpayer money by reducing the number of false claims put forward each year. In actuality the system has only served to make those seeking justice for genuine grievances less likely to reach out for help due to excessive costs.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, expressed support for the report findings: “The introduction of fees was a terrible decision […] Tribunal fees should be scrapped immediately before any more law-breaking employers escape punishment because wronged workers simply don’t have the cash to take them to court.”

The report also recorded how a significant decrease in claims occurred between 2012-14, which is well below the numbers expected. There was a 70% drop from 5,847 to 1,740 cases recorded.

Most troubling of all is the kind of cases that have diminished. Disability discrimination cases are down 51%, race discrimination hearings have fallen by 55%, and sex discrimination cases have dropped 71%. Statistics show that low-paid women have been the group to have suffered more than any other under the fee system.

Increasingly there are calls for current tribunal fees, which can be as high as £950, to be altered. One of the most vocal opponents is Frances O’Grady, the General Secretary of TUC, who states:

Charging people up to £1,200 to take claim has been a gift to Britain’s worse bosses. And it’s allowed discrimination at work to flourish unchallenged. Until the government commits to abolishing fees, its commitment to ‘improve workers rights’ in post-Brexit Britain looks pretty hollow.”

Reacting to the report, ministers have already made a list of suggested alterations in a bid to ensure all workers make their voices heard across Britain, regardless of their background or financial status.

Among these proposals is a monthly threshold for a full fee remission rise, from £1,085 to £1,250. This is an amount that better reflects the income of workers earning the national living wage. Other suggestions include giving financial assistance to workers who live with a partner and/or children .

Leader of Unite, Len McCluskey, has expressed his organisation’s feelings towards the report: “The actual facts are that when working people are priced out of justice, and it is made exceptionally difficult for their unions to pursue it on their behalf, then the only winners are bad employers.

In contrast to those who seek an outright removal of the fee system, Justice minister Sir Oliver Heald reacted to the report’s findings with a mixed opinion: 

Sir Heald also revealed that to prevent the loss of tribunal hearings, the existing Help With Fees system will henceforth receive greater government support, and that a green paper will be issued to establish the legal rights involved.

Unison plans to challenge the fee system in a hearing before the Supreme Court on 27 and 28 March 2017.

How Will Employment Law Change in 2017?

Each year the employment law world experiences a number of changes that will ultimately affect the rulings made by many tribunal hearings.

The past twelve months saw the sanction of a number of government established changes take that will come into law during 2017. Both employers and employees should understand what these changes mean for them. Read on for a number of the most prominent changes that will shape 2017.

Increase of Minimum Wage
From April 2017, the British National Minimum Wage will rise for workers aged 25 and over. The new rate will be set at £7.50 per hour; a 30p increase.

The government has long expressed support for working towards a minimum wage of £9 per hour for all workers aged over 25 by the year 2020.

Although reaching this goal appears to be increasing, the current UK rate is still far below the sum that analysts believe is a fair level of pay when measured against the cost of living in Britain, which is an estimated £8.45 per hour, with £9.75 for London workers.

There will also be a pay increase for workers below 25, as both the 18-20 and 20-24 age groups will see increases of £5.60 and £7.05 respectively.

Foreign Staff Employment
From April 2017, employers who rely on the contribution of workers who hold a Tier 2 visa will now be required to pay a £1,000 employment fee for each worker in accordance with the introduction of the new immigration skills charge. However, charity organisations and smaller businesses will only be required to pay the lower fee of £364 each.

This change coincides with new laws that require Tier 2 workers planning to apply for jobs in Britain as an ‘experienced worker’ to be earning a salary with a minimum of £30,000 per annum. Although some workers employed in the education and health sectors may be exempt from this rate of earning.

Mandatory Apprenticeship Funding
The upcoming year will see large companies need to fund apprenticeship schemes across their business; a move that is hoped to raise at least £3 billion for the UK economy; of which the government will contribute an additional 10% per month.

The tax for this apprenticeship scheme will be set at a rate equivalent to 0.5% of each company’s overall salary bill. This tax, sometimes referred to as the ‘payroll tax’, applies to companies with an annual salary roll in excess of £3 million. This salary cap prevents smaller businesses from suffering against the financial costs involved.

The costs incurred must be also be used to support existing apprenticeships and job training opportunities to allow workers aged 16 and over then opportunity to learn whilst working, with the goal of them gaining a nationally recognised qualification relevant to the business’s industry.

Employers can track their levy sums via a custom account created by the Digital Apprenticeship Service, and they will have the option of an allowance of £15,000 to assist with any difficulties incurred by the cost of the new scheme which begins in May 2017. Businesses that have only recently begun to trade may qualify for additional government assistance.

Gender Pay Gap Report to be Issued

After years of planning, businesses in the public sector with a pay-roll of more than 250 employees will finally have to reveal details of any pay gap between men and women that may exist within the company.

Private and voluntary sectors will be obligated to reveal this information at a later date, with a deadline for the publication of these reports expected in 2018.

Additionally, new rules will be set for stipulating how employers are allowed to release key information regarding the salaries and bonus payments for male and female workers.

Tax-Free Childcare 
The long-awaited tax-free childcare scheme will at last be implemented in 2017. This will allow working families with children aged under twelve to receive 20% support for overall childcare costs, with the maximum amount for an eligible claim set at £2,000 per annum. Although the financial income of a home might be a factor in deciding what the individual minimum and maximum entitlements should be for that family.

Families with disabled children will see the maximum age for their children to receive support raised to seventeen.

The current childcare voucher scheme, supported via employers, will continue to be available for new applicants until April 2018. Families currently relying on this scheme can continue to do so as long as their employer maintains the policy, or until the new tax-free childcare system becomes mandatory.

Salary Sacrifice 
Salary sacrifice benefits are to change from April 2017 as outlined in the 2016 Autumn Statement. This means that most salary sacrifice schemes will soon no longer have permission to avoid the costs required by income taxes, although tax arrangements arranged before April 2017 are to stay protected until April 2018.

Trade Union Balloting 
During 2017 new balloting rules will begin under rules outlined by the Trade Union Act 2016. This includes strike action only being granted if the majority of workers vote in favour of it. A 50% minimum turnout of workers is required.