Time for secret ballots?

“The membership is not going back to work until those two matters are resolved.”

So says Chris Furbert, the leader of the BIU who carries on to say that unless his demands are met, the America’s Cup will be in jeopardy.

I started with the quote because although Mr Furbert talks of the membership – he does not say, nor is it stated, how many of the membership actually voted for this course of action.

Here is the UK’s law on ballots, it says “A trade union can only call for industrial action if a majority of its members involved support it in a properly organised postal vote – called a ‘ballot’.”

And goes on …

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.


Unions have -and should have – the right to strike. It is a fundamentally important part of their armoury. But is it fair – to the union members themselves as well as the public at large – to call a strike based on what appeared to be a few score people turning up at  a meeting?

I was Father of Chapel (the chair of the local branch of the NUJ) at a paper I worked for in the UK and knew that unless I could show that the majority of members were in favour of a course of action, I would laughed out of  his office, and, frankly, rightly so.

If a union believes that right is on their side, it is up to them to convince their members. If they cannot, they should back off and try a different way. If they do convince the members and there is a majority in favour, fine, everyone knows exactly where they stand.

Too often it has appeared that industrial action has not been sanctioned by the majority – or if it is, I don’t recall seeing proof.

That causes an enormous amount of sniping and suspicion aimed at unions and, in particular their leaders, who people accuse of acting only in their own, possibly  political, interests.

It does nothing for union support and does nothing to promote the unions themselves as an organization a person should aspire to join.

If they have a just cause they will get a majority vote. If they do, everyone has to respect that. What is there to lose by having secret ballots?






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