Worthingtons Solicitors

Industrial Action: Notifying Employers of an Intention to Ballot

The picket lines in Northern Ireland have been particularly busy in recent months, with thousands of public sector workers staging walkouts in a bid to bring about pay parity with the rest of the UK. This comes against the backdrop of a widening wage gap that has culminated in record-breaking industrial action from teachers, nurses, doctors and, of course, the public transport strikes that dominated the festive period.

With that in mind – should employers be notified in advance of any industrial action ballots?  

Yes – for industrial action to be deemed lawful, a trade union must take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure notice of an industrial action ballot is provided to an employer not later than the seventh day before the intended opening day of the ballot, pursuant to section 105 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (NI) Order 1995. For the purposes of the 1995 Order, an employer is “every person who it is reasonable for the union to believe will be the employer of persons entitled to vote in the ballot.”

Together with specification that the union intends to hold a ballot, confirmation of the date on which the union reasonably believes will be the opening day of the ballot, notice to employers must be in writing and also contain:

  • a list of the categories of employee to be called out and a list of the workplaces at which they work;
  • the total number of employees affected, the number of employees in each category, and the number of employees in each workplace;
  • an explanation of how these figures were arrived at; or
  • alternatively, where some or all of the employees concerned pay subscriptions to the union through a “check-off” system i.e where union dues are deducted from employees’ pay at source, the union can instead provide information which will allow the employer to ‘readily deduce’ the above information.

To ensure full compliance with ballot notice requirements, unions must finally provide a sample of the voting paper to the employer at least 3 days before the opening of the ballot. If the sample voting paper is available in time, the union may wish to include it with the notice of intention to ballot.

The ballot process can be legally complex and the above is only intended to be a summary of the notification obligations placed on Unions; however, non-compliance may raise questions regarding the validity of any subsequent industrial action.  If you are an employer and your company faces strike action, and you are concerned about compliance with any of the above notification obligations, specific legal advice should be sought.

Should you have any queries or would like any further information on how Worthingtons can help you in these circumstances, please contact our office on 028 9043 4015 or email [email protected].

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