Thompsons Solicitors has questioned the government’s approach to modernising the method of balloting for industrial action, arguing that the government could have implemented electronic balloting without a review.

The firm was responding to an independent review of the case for electronic balloting for industrial action commissioned in November 2016 following the introduction of the Trade Union Act, and carried out by Ken Knight, a former chief fire officer and chief fire and rescue advisor for England.

In its submission, Thompsons points out that other important and far-reaching decisions already take advantage of electronic voting, including the Conservatives’ internal election for their Mayor of London candidate, and shareholder voting for multi-national corporations, yet rather than listen to trade unions and other organisations and include reforms in the Trade Union Act, ministers instead opted to delay reform by announcing the review.

Rather than looking at whether online voting systems are any more secure than traditional methods, Thompsons believes that the government should simply ensure they are just as safe and concentrate instead on enfranchising more union members.

"In an unwarranted and unjustified attack on trade union democracy, the Trade Union Act 2016 was passed by the Tories to limit the scope for unions to undertake industrial action. The introduction of electronic balloting could go some way towards righting that wrong."

Iain Birrell
practice lead of the trade union law group at Thompsons Solicitors

Iain Birrell, practice lead of the trade union law group at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “This review is actually unnecessary. Electronic voting is already a tried and tested method which is proven to boost participation in elections. If Conservative ministers believe themselves to be democrats, then responding to unions’ long-standing desire to use electronic balloting by passing the necessary legislation would be the sensible thing to do.

“While the existing system of union balloting undoubtedly meets required standards – with levels of voter fraud and intimidation low to non-existent –the introduction of e-balloting would be beneficial to the union movement and enhance democratic decision making and accountability even further.

“At every chance, Tory ministers complain about low turnouts in ballots on industrial action. Yet it’s the same ministers standing in the way of a simple mechanism to boost turnout. This is straightforward hypocrisy.

“There is no evidence to show a difference in safety between e-balloting and postal voting systems. With electronic balloting, there is a real opportunity - which the government should grasp with both hands - to increase turnout, especially among younger members and those with accessibility problems who might currently struggle to vote.

“As the Conservatives use an e-balloting system in their internal London mayor elections, it is scandalous that they are not giving working people the same opportunity - a reminder of the Tories’ double standards when it comes to the union movement.

“In an unwarranted and unjustified attack on trade union democracy, the Trade Union Act 2016 was passed by the Tories to limit the scope for unions to undertake industrial action. The introduction of electronic balloting could go some way towards righting that wrong.”

You can find Thompsons’ full response to the Review here.