The High Court last week dismissed a legal challenge by Balfour Beatty Engineering Services (BBES) for an interim injunction, following a strike vote by construction workers belonging to Unite the union.
BBES decided to challenge a ballot of electricians, plumbers, heating and ventilating engineers which had resulted in a vote of two to one in favour of strike action.
Lawyers for the company argued that Unite had breached section 230(2) of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act, and had therefore failed “so far as is reasonably practicable” to ensure that everyone who was entitled to vote in the ballot had received a ballot paper.
Acknowledging the need for flexibility to take account of the practicalities involved, the Court held that Unite had gone to “painstaking” lengths to verify the information about their members to ensure that the majority of those entitled to vote had indeed received a ballot paper.
It is for union officers, the Court said, to “exercise their own judgment about what are the appropriate steps to take in a given situation. It cannot be right for a judge to hold that all reasonably practicable steps have not been taken merely because he or she would (as an outsider) have done something different”.
The judge was confident that Unite would be able to establish a trade dispute defence on the basis that its staff had complied with the test of "reasonable practicability" under section 230(2).
He went on to say that Unite had gone “to considerable lengths to ensure democratic legitimacy which might be thought to exceed what would ordinarily be expected. I was told that more time, money and manpower had been expended on this ballot than in any comparable situation in the past. Whether this is so or not, the efforts made were formidable.”
The judge concluded that: “I am not persuaded that Unite is threatening or intending to do anything that would be unlawful. There would be no ground, therefore, on which to grant an injunction.”