Taking part in industrial action and strikes

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Holding a ballot

Your union must have a vote (a ‘ballot’) that’s properly organised according to legal rules.

Properly organised ballots

A ballot for industrial action must:

  • be supervised by a qualified independent person (a ‘scrutineer’ - often someone from an organisation like the Electoral Reform Society) appointed by the union if over 50 members are being balloted
  • be held before the union asks members to take or continue taking action
  • be open to all members the union wants to take action
  • be a postal ballot where members vote by marking a box on a voting paper and return it in a prepaid envelope
  • include information on what the ballot is about and where to post your vote

The union must tell everyone entitled to vote how many people voted, the number of yes votes, no votes or spoiled papers as soon as it can after the ballot.

It must also give the employer one week’s notice of the start of the ballot and tell them the result as soon as possible once it’s available.

There’s practical guidance on these rules in the code of practice on industrial action ballots.

Questions on the voting paper

When you’re balloted, your voting paper must ask whether you want to take part in either (or both):

  • strike action
  • action short of a strike

The union can only call on members to take action if a majority of members who voted were in favour of that particular action. If both questions are asked on the ballot paper and members vote yes to both, the union can decide what industrial action to take.

Complaining about ballots

You can apply for a court order if your union breaks the rules on industrial action ballots. You can take legal advice before doing this.

The court may order the union not to organise action if it decides a ballot wasn’t held according to the rules.

You can apply for a temporary injunction that tells the union not to call industrial action if your case can’t be heard in court straight away.

If the union doesn’t do what the court says, you can ask them to ‘declare the union to be in contempt of court’ and the union can be fined.