From the TUC

The independent review of online voting for trade unions is finally happening

04 Nov 2016, by in Politics

As someone working in digital services in trade unions, the legal ban on using online voting for union statutory ballots has always wound me up. So I’m very pleased at the news that the government are finally starting their promised independent review into online voting for unions.

Sir Ken Knight, the government’s former Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser has been announced as the review’s Chair. He will hear evidence over the next year, reporting by December 2017.

And there will be a lot of evidence to hear – it should be more than enough to convince him. Thousands of e-ballots have been organised in the last year, by hundreds of organisations, including hundreds of thousands of electors. The list includes votes for membership organisations, company board elections, political party elections and much more. I’ve taken part in 4 myself already in 2016 – they all worked.

When PM Theresa May nearly had to compete for her new job this summer against Andrea Leadsom, the ballot of Conservative Party members was planned to include online voting. Now, I understand ministers’ objections that the result of a strike ballot is a serious decision that needs to be run securely, but personally I’d also put CHOOSING OUR NEW PRIME MINISTER into that category too.

And it’s not even new for unions. We’ve been running online balloting on non-statutory decisions perfectly happily for well over a decade. We consult the membership online on pay offers or other important choices, or elect people to many roles in the union. If Sir Ken’s review concludes in our favour, it could be the start of a process to let us also use e-balloting in statutory ballots like strike votes or elections for unions’ general secretaries.

The Trade Union Act is lined up to bring in arbitrary and frankly innumerate thresholds for strike ballots. It’s doubly unfair to make unions conduct these votes only by a postal method that’s been proven to be slow, expensive and to depress turnout. Someone more cynical than myself might think it’s less about the government’s stated aim of increasing turnout in strike votes, and more about stopping strikes happening at all costs.

I want to see unions able to engage more often and more meaningfully with our members online. The more people that are able to join in making a decision, the better it will be. Online voting, for those that want to do it, is a part of that.

So there’s all to play for here. As Frances O’Grady said:

“It is time to bring union balloting into the 21st century and let members vote securely online. Allowing union members to vote online should be an uncontroversial move welcomed by anyone who values democracy. It is in everyone’s interests that the review is carried out quickly and not dragged out.”

We’re glad the government (eventually) saw sense in allowing this review, and we’re looking forward to telling Sir Ken why we think online voting in union ballots should be allowed as soon as possible.