Unite in court defence of Balfour sparks strike vote

by - 7th February 2012, 7.00 BST

Lawyers for Unite are awaiting a decision from the High Court over claims by construction giant Balfour Beatty that a 67% vote in favour of strike action which could hit power stations, rail construction sites and oil terminals is invalid.

Balfour Beatty Engineering Services is challenging Unite’s second vote for industrial action against the multinational’s threat to impose “sign or be sacked” contracts on hundreds of electricians, plumbers and other construction engineers.

Many unions are increasingly concerned at the numbers of employers who exploit anti-union legislation to try to overturn the democratic decisions of workers on industrial action.

The number of applications for injunctions following strike ballots has risen in recent years. A growing number of decisions backed employers’ claims that minor errors by a trade union could trigger a successful anti-strike injunction under the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act.

However, in what analysts regard as a key ruling in March 2011, the Court of Appeal overturned a judgement which found RMT had not kept adequate membership lists during a strike ballot against the rail services company Serco.

The task of maintaining up-to-the-minute membership and workplace lists is unusually difficult for a mobile, transient workforce such as electricians and other trades, where sparks are frequently transferred between sites at short notice.

Unions may argue that it took all reasonably practical steps to ensure it had accurate lists, also that any errors were accidental and were unlikely to have a substantial affect on the outcome of the ballot.

A leading sparks rank and file activist told UnionNews: “Balfours is only making its own workers even more angry by trying to challenge a clear ballot result in court when they should be negotiating a settlement with us which seriously addresses our grievances and concerns.”

The outcome of today’s hearing is expected on Wednesday.