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:
risks of interception, impersonation,
hacking, fraud, or misleading or irregular practices associated
with electronic balloting;
whether systems can be safeguarded to
reduce risk of intimidation of union members and protect anonymity
security and resilience of existing
practices of balloting union members; and
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
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
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