Ballot code set to cut legal wrangles over disputes

A new code of practice on conducting industrial action ballots is set to reduce legal disputes between employers and unions.

Provisions in the Employment Relations Act 1999, which come into effect on 18 September, will provide scope for courts to disregard “small, accidental failures” in the organisation of ballots.

The changes are designed to simplify the law and reduce the likelihood of legal wrangles.

But a new draft code of practice launched last week to provide further guidance has failed to quell uncertainty. The code only reiterates that errors – especially in relation to who is entitled to vote – in the despatch of ballot papers and postal voting will be disregarded if “taken together, they are on a scale that is unlikely to affect the ballot’s result”.

Lawyers have warned that the vagueness could lead to even more legal wrangling.

“The only way we will get clarification on this is to wait for the court cases,” said Sue Nickson, national head of employment at Hammond Suddards.

“Employers will try to challenge the validity of a ballot but the union will say there was a hiccup and it hasn’t affected the outcome.”

But senior policy adviser at the CBI Graham Morton welcomed the Government’s refusal to bow to union pressure to remove a requirement that a union should ballot only if it is contemplating industrial action.

“Many ballots are not primarily concerned with industrial action but have been used simply as a bargaining weapon.”

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