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Freshfields Risk & Compliance

| 5 minutes read

UK Election: Trade unions – how do the policies compare?


In light of the upcoming UK General Election in July 2024, there is an increasing focus on how the two main political parties will approach employment rights in order to win the votes of workers. We have analysed the trade union-related policies proposed in the Labour manifesto (and Labour’s New Deal) and the Conservatives’ manifesto

The Conservatives’ priority will remain to limit the impact of industrial action on public services and balance the ability of workers to strike with the rights of the public, which suggests that there will be minimal changes to the current regime. Labour’s proposals are a marked change from the Conservatives’ approach and would give trade unions a wider remit within the workplace and would likely strengthen the position of trade unions in their negotiations with employers.

Look out for further blogs where we will analyse in more detail the potential impact of proposals as further detail is released.

Impact of General Election outcome on Trade Unions

TopicLabour proposed policiesConservative policies
Changes to existing legislation
  • Labour’s reform proposals will focus on repealing the following legislation within 100 days of being in government:
    • The Trade Union Act 2016 – this regulation was enacted to increase transparency for employers by introducing, among other things i) information and timing requirements in relation to industrial action; ii) legal requirements on unions for the supervision of picketing; and iii) ballot thresholds. Labour’s key concern in relation to this legislation is that it imposes significant restrictions on trade unions and members as to how and when they could take industrial action.  
    • The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022 – this regulation allows agency workers to provide cover for striking workers.
    • The Minimum Service Levels (Strikes) Act 2023 – this regulation attempts to reduce the disruption caused to the public by prolonged strikes in certain sectors in the wake of recent, sustained industrial action (e.g. railway strikes) by allowing employers to specify a minimum number of workers who are still required to work during any industrial action. 


  • It is proposed that Labour will also update blacklisting regulations to outlaw the use of predictive technologies for blacklisting of trade union representatives and members and to instead safeguard against singling out workers without any evidence of human decision making (either by the employer or a third party contractor). In order to enforce this, Labour will give the regulator and Employment Tribunals the power to order the seizure and destruction of any such list.
  • Following judicial review in July 2023, the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022 were revoked on the grounds that the Secretary of State had failed to fulfil their statutory obligation to consult before enactment. The Conservatives have been consulting on reintroducing this legislation in a legally compliant manner so that the option for agency workers to provide cover for striking workers is available again. 


  • With the Conservatives’ priority being to reduce the impact of industrial action on public services, they will continue implementing the Minimum Service Levels (Strikes) Act 2023 which would allow employers, once the union has served a notice of industrial action, to issue a work notice setting out the minimum number of workers that are still required to work during the industrial action. If the union does not take all reasonable steps to ensure that the work notice is complied with, the union will not be protected from certain legal actions by the employer.
Fair pay
  • In the social care sector only, Labour plans to establish Fair Pay Agreements negotiated through sectoral collective bargaining. These agreements will establish minimum terms and conditions which will be binding on all employers and workers in that sector. 


  • Labour will assess whether to expand the implementation of Fair Pay Agreements to other sectors at a later stage. If the scope is expanded to other industries,  it will likely mean that employers who have not previously had to engage with trade unions will need to do so. However, Labour also recognises that for sectors where existing collective arrangements are working well and supported by trade unions, Labour would instead look to build and support these existing arrangements, rather than requiring sectoral collective bargaining.
  • There is no proposal for the Conservatives to establish Fair Pay Agreements. 
Union right of entry
  • Labour plans to strengthen trade unions’ right of entry to workplaces for recruitment and organisation purposes.
  • There are also proposals from Labour to introduce a framework which allows unions to organise, meet and represent their members and potential members and to contact remote workers, provided they give appropriate notice and comply with reasonable employer requests. 
  • The Conservatives have not made any new proposals on union right of entry to the workplace so the current regime is likely to continue (which provides unions with limited rights to enter workplaces to organise and recruit new members unless they are already recognised or access is ordered by the Central Arbitration Committee in advance of a statutory recognition ballot).
Union recognition and representation 
  • Labour plans to review and simplify the process of union recognition by:
    • lowering the statutory recognition thresholds (although the proposals do not specify what the lower percentage would be);
    • removing the rule that unions must show that at least 50% of workers are likely to support their statutory recognition claim before beginning the process; 
    • requiring only a simple majority of support from workers in the final ballot for statutory recognition; and 
    • ensuring that workers in precarious and gig economy sectors have a realistic and meaningful right to organise actions through trade unions – although Labour has not provided any detail on what it intends here.
  • The current statutory recognition process is likely to remain in place – including the requirement that for statutory recognition a union must have support of over 50% of the workers that it seeks to represent. 
  • Labour is proposing to introduce e-balloting and workplace balloting for statutory ballots in an attempt to bring the law in line with modern technology and working methods.
  • The Conservatives have not made any new proposals on balloting, so the current regime of requiring ballot by post is likely to continue. 
Protection for trade union representatives and members
  • Labour plans to take steps to ensure that trade union representatives have ‘sufficient’ facilities time so that they can represent and defend workers, negotiate with employers and train. 
  • There is a Labour proposal to introduce statutory rights for trade union equality representatives.
  • There are also proposals to strengthen protections for union representatives against unfair dismissal and from intimidation, harassment, threats and blacklisting. 
  • The Conservatives have not proposed any new developments for trade union representatives and members so the current time off rights (to represent union members in negotiations on things like pay and terms and conditions) and current protections (namely the protections in relation to recruitment and blacklisting; the prohibition of unlawful inducements and the prohibition on workers’ detriment and dismissal of employees on trade union grounds) are likely to continue.
Notification obligations
  • Labour proposes to introduce a new duty on employers to inform all new employees of their right to join a union and for this to be included in their written statement of particulars. All staff must be informed of this right on a ‘regular’ basis (although no guidance is given on how frequent ‘regular’ should be) and when they move roles.
  • Labour also proposes to simplify the requirement to give notice of industrial action (although no detail has been provided to date on how this would be simplified).
  • The Conservatives have not proposed any new notification obligations, so the current regime (namely i) the obligation on employers to inform workers of any collective bargaining agreement which affects them; and ii) that a trade union must give an employer at least 14 days’ notice of any industrial action) is likely to continue.





2024 elections, unions, employment