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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Trade union ballots

All trade unions have systems to involve their members in decision-making. These can involve the holding of ballots and elections to measure opinion among members. In some cases trade unions are required by law to ballot their members. The result of the ballot decides what happens.

Statutory ballots

There are three circumstances where the law says that a trade union must ballot all of its members. These are:

  • in advance of a merger with another trade union
  • elections to fill senior positions within the trade union
  • to start up and continue a political fund

In addition, a trade union wishing to call industrial action must ballot all the members it is thinking of asking to take part in the action.

These ballots are called statutory ballots and must always be conducted by post. This means that trade union members will be sent a ballot form and, as it is a secret ballot, instructed to answer the questions by marking one or more boxes on the voting paper.

Merger ballots

Merger ballots are held when two or more trade unions combine into a single new trade union (an amalgamation) or one trade union transfers its members, assets and legal obligations to another. This is known as a transfer of engagements.

An amalgamation can only take place if there has been a ballot of the members of each trade union and the members of each trade union have voted in favour of the amalgamation.

A transfer of engagements can take place only if the members of the trade union transferring its engagements have voted in favour of the transfer.

Elections for senior positions

With a few exceptions, there must be elections by ballot for the following positions in a trade union:

  • member of the executive
  • other positions where the person holding the post is automatically a member of the executive
  • president
  • general secretary

Political fund ballots

Some trade unions have a political fund, from which the trade union may make donations to political parties or otherwise spend money on political objects. Political funds are subject to special regulation.

Political fund ballots are held to decide whether a trade union's members wish to start a political fund. The trade union must hold a further political fund ballot at least every ten years to ask its members if they want the trade union to continue running a political fund. This is sometimes called a 'review ballot'.

Industrial action ballots

Industrial action ballots are held to decide if members of a trade union wish to take industrial action over a dispute with their employer (eg a strike). The trade union must only ballot the members it is thinking of asking to take part in the industrial action.

The following statement must appear on every voting paper:

"If you take part in a strike or other industrial action, you may be in breach of your contract of employment. However, if you are dismissed for taking part in strike or other industrial action which is called officially and is otherwise lawful, the dismissal will be unfair if it takes place fewer than twelve weeks after you started taking part in the action, and depending on the circumstances may be unfair if it takes place later."

If there is majority support for industrial action, the action must begin within four weeks of the ballot (or eight weeks if the trade union and employer agree to an extension).

Non-statutory ballots

A non-statutory ballot is any ballot held in which a trade union asks its members to vote on an issue, other than the four types of statutory ballot. A trade union's rules may require it, or give it the option to, decide a particular issue by ballot. Voting in a ballot of this kind must be conducted in accordance with its rules.

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