Why Can’t We Just Stop Work Or Walk Out In Protest Like We Once Did?
The law requires unions to hold fully
postal ballots of members before calling a strike or other industrial action. In
addition, the union has to give the employer at least 7 days written notice before the ballot opens; and again after the ballot
but before the industrial action begins.
The first day of action must fall within
4 weeks of the close of the ballot, unless the employer and the union agree a longer period e.g. to allow negotiations.
If all these steps are not followed closely,
the industrial action will be unlawful and would put workers’ jobs at risk.
If a union or its officials organise a
walkout without following the legal procedures, the employer can get an injunction
against the union and the organisers of the action. If we the union disobey the
injunction, the union and its officials could be in contempt of court. Worse,
the employer could dismiss all those taking part in the unlawful and unprotected industrial action. Court orders disrupt the collective defence of workers’ interests.
On the other hand a proper ballot will
protect workers from dismissal during the first 12 weeks of the industrial action. Any dismissal will be automatically unfair, regardless of how long a worker has been
employed. A dismissal after the first 12 weeks may still be unfair if the employer
has not taken reasonable procedural steps to resolve the dispute e.g. has not followed the agreed procedure, or has unreasonably
refused a union offer of mediation or conciliation. This protection will not
apply if the union fails to observe the ballot law.
Of course, even before these laws came
in, GMB policy has always been for members to vote in favour before the union calls for any industrial action.
2. Can My Employer Stop Me Joining A Trade Union?
No. Every worker has the fundamental civil right to join
a trade union, and to take part in its activities.
If your employer penalises you for joining a trade union - whether by dismissing you or through lesser
discipline or other detrimental treatment - you can complain to an Employment Tribunal.
Compensation levels for union victimisation dismissals are higher than normal.
You do not need to have one year’s continuous employment before brining a claim for unfair dismissal
if you are dismissed because of your union membership or because you joined in your union’s activities.
Nor can an employer offer better terms and conditions to non-members than to members. The Conservative law that allowed this discrimination has now been repealed.
Your employer cannot offer you inducements to prevent you joining a union, taking part in its activities
or making use of its service. Since 1 October 2004,
your employer cannot offer you any inducements to opt out of collective bargaining.
There is also protection against victimisation and dismissal for workers who support their union’s
campaign for recognition.
Do Shop Stewards And Safety Representatives Get Time Off For Training?
Yes, you should get time off with pay, but there are conditions:
Ø you are an accredited steward or safety rep;
Ø your employer recognises GMB for collective bargaining;
Ø you ask your employer for time off [first giving reasonable notice];
Ø the training course is approved by GMB or by the TUC;
Ø the training is relevant to your GMB duties;
Ø the amount of time off you request must be reasonable.
Since the training must be relevant to your union duties, you may face difficulties if the course is
on a subject your employer refuses to discuss with the Union. All GMB courses are carefully designed to increase the chance of paid time off, so always consult your
Regional Education Officer.
What is “reasonable” time off will depend on the particular circumstances. Guidance on training of Safety Reps comes in the 1977 Code of Practice issued by the Health and Safety
Commission; and on training of staff reps and shop stewards in the 1991 Code of Practice from the Advisory, Conciliation and
The amount of pay should be your normal pay. However where
the course falls on days you would normally not work, there is no statutory right to time off in lieu - another good reason to negotiate time off agreements.
Where you work part-time, and the course lasts longer than your normal working hours, you should be
paid for those extra hours.
There is no need for a minimum period of continuous service - if all other conditions are met, you are entitled to
time off from your first day of employment. [Although the HSC Code recommends two years’ experience for safety reps.]
If you are refused paid time off for training, contact your GMB Regional Organiser.
The Government has now brought into force the parts of the Employment Act 2002 that give time off rights to “Union
Learning Representatives”. These union officials advise union members about
their training needs e.g. technical and vocational courses. ULRs will get reasonable
paid time off for their duties and for their own learning needs.
Can My Union Represent Me In A Grievance Or Disciplinary Hearing?
Workers have the right to be accompanied at grievance and disciplinary hearings and appeals, even if their employer
does not recognise their Union (see also 30. Can I Be Represented In A Disciplinary Hearing?).
· This right is available to all workers (including agency and home
workers) regardless of the number working for their employer.
· The companion can be:
Ø a union lay official certified as experienced or trained in representing
Ø a trade union officer; or
Ø another of the employer’s workers.
· The right applies to any disciplinary
hearing which could result in a formal warning, or in the employer taking some other action e.g. dismissal, suspension.
· The grievance must concern
the performance of a duty owed by an employer to the worker i.e. any common law, contractual or statutory duty. So a grievance over unlawful pay discrimination would be covered, but usually not a request for a pay rise.
· The right also applies to appeal
hearings for disciplinary and grievance matters.
· The request to be accompanied must be “reasonable”, so
do not leave it until the last minute. It is best, though not obligatory, to
put it in writing.
Your companion can represent you by:
addressing the hearing to put your case
(including questioning management and witnesses), summing up your case and responding on your behalf to any view expressed
at the hearing
confer with you during the hearing.
Your companion cannot however:
answer questions on your behalf,
address the hearing if you indicate that
you do not want him/her to do so,
use the powers in way that prevents the
employer from explaining their case or prevents anyone else at the hearing from making their contribution to it.
If your companion is not available, you can ask for the hearing to be postponed.
The alternative slot must fall within five working days (excluding Saturday, Sunday, Christmas Day, Good Friday and
bank holidays). So a hearing set for Monday can be postponed up to, but not beyond
the following Monday.
The companion is allowed reasonable paid time off, including conferring with
you before and after the hearing.
If an employer refuses to allow you to be accompanied, or to postpone a hearing,
you can complain to an Employment Tribunal, which can award up to two weeks’ pay.
A dismissal in these circumstances may well be unfair.
Workers and their representatives are protected from dismissal or
action short of dismissal for exercising or trying to exercise the right to be accompanied.