Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Strike ballots must go digital: TUC

Business Secretary Vince Cable has been urged to change the rules on voting in strike ballots

Union members should be able to use their work or home computers or smartphones to vote in strike ballots, according to the TUC.

The union organisation has written to Business Secretary Vince Cable calling for changes to bring voting on industrial action into the digital age.

The move followed criticism by the Conservatives over low turnouts in ballots which led to a walkout by over a million public sector workers last week, with calls for a threshold before a strike can go ahead.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said "In the run up to and during last week's public sector strike much of the rhetoric coming from parts of government was about making it harder for ordinary workers to go on strike by raising the bar on the number of votes needed with a view to either stopping lawful industrial action taking place altogether or exposing unions to claims for damages. In our view this amounts to an attempt to ban strikes by the back door.

"The rules governing industrial action ballots in the UK are already very stringent and while there is absolutely no case for imposing a tougher turnout threshold - that not a single Westminster MP met at the last election - unions are keen to explore ways that industrial democracy could be strengthened.

"Electronic forms of vote casting would help bring union balloting into the modern age. Other UK voting systems have moved with the times, but union strike ballots are firmly stuck in the last century.

"This means of communication works for some, but for many workers leading busy lives, it's all too easy for the ballot envelope to be put to one side - at best only opened after the deadline or, as is more likely, simply recycled.

"Whilst any strike ballot where a majority of members in a workplace vote for action is a legal and legitimate result, unions would clearly prefer to see more people participating. But to do that we need to update the rules and let people vote on their digital devices."

A Business Department spokesman said: "The Government understands the need to modernise the way in which union ballots are held, whilst also allowing all union members to use whatever method is best for them to communicate with their union.

"There are no current plans to change industrial action law; however, we will keep any ideas under consideration."

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