Electronic balloting: are trade unions about to leap into the digital age?

Back in the spring, when the Trade Union Act was in its bill stage, the House of Lords proposed an amendment for an electronic balloting review and piloting scheme. The amendment was incorporated into Section 4 of the Trade Union Act (which became law on 4 May 2016). This provision gave the Secretary of State six months to commission an independent review on the delivery of methods of electronic balloting (for ballots before action by a trade union). The fact that the review was announced on the last day available to the Secretary of State (3 November 2016) perhaps suggests that the government currently has bigger fish to fry. However, the former Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser for England, Sir Ken Knight, has now been tasked with looking at:

  1. risks of interception, impersonation, hacking, fraud, or misleading or irregular practices associated with electronic balloting;
  2. whether systems can be safeguarded to reduce risk of intimidation of union members and protect anonymity of voters;
  3. security and resilience of existing practices of balloting union members; and
  4. the aims of the Trade Union Act to ensure that strikes and related disruption to the public only occur as a result of the clear, positive decisions of those entitled to vote.

Sir Ken Knight now has until December 2017 at the latest to prepare his report. Once the report is presented to the Secretary of State, she will need to consider the report and publish her response to it. If there have not already been pilot schemes put in place by that time, it is likely that they will follow. Further, the Act requires the Secretary of State to consult relevant organisations, including professionals from expert associations, to seek their advice and recommendations. All this means that change is unlikely to happen quickly.
So will the trade unions be forced into the digital age by electronic balloting? Perhaps. It seems likely that there will be workable solutions to many of the issues highlighted above. However, by the time electronic balloting is effective, trade unions are likely to have been forced to modernise significantly in light of other challenges (including the increased use of agile and flexible working). Therefore, it is unlikely to be much of a leap for them.

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Michelle Lamb

About Michelle Lamb

Michelle is a senior associate in the Employment team. She advises public and private employers on all aspects of contentious and non-contentious employment law, but specializes in TUPE, change programs, employment aspects of corporate transactions and discrimination complaints. Michelle regularly procures advice from other jurisdictions to support Dentons' multinational client base.

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