The UK Government is to commission an independent review into the use of online voting for trade union strike ballots following a recent vote in the House of Commons on the controversial Trade Union Bill.
MPs voted 312 – 260 in favour of an amendment to the Bill setting out that a review into the use of online voting for strike ballots should be carried out and for it to report its findings to Parliament. The amendment does not mandate the Government to act upon the findings however, which caused disagreement amongst MPs and accusations of a “classic kick it into the long grass approach.”
Trade Unions in the UK have been campaigning for over a decade for the introduction of electronic balloting for strike action. Currently they are are restricted to holding the votes by post only.
Writing in her foreword of WebRoots Democracy’s Viral Voting report last year, the General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O’Grady, said:
“Compulsory postal votes were introduced when the post was our main means of communication. Now, a lot of mail is junk mail or bills, and for many people life has moved online and onto smartphones. That’s why the TUC has argued for the right to use modern balloting methods.”
Making the case for the Government’s amendment, Nick Boles MP, a Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said:
“There have already been many reviews looking into this matter, such as those carried out by Electoral Reform Services, WebRoots Democracy and, of course, the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy. They have made encouraging comments about a move to electronic ballots, but none has been able to provide assurance on managing the risks. While there is still this doubt, I can see merit in exploring the issues further. And of course the important difference is that this review will be specifically in the context of electronic ballots for industrial action. So, in accepting that there should be a review, we accept the spirit of the clause on electronic balloting. In fact we accept virtually the entirety of the amendment made by the Lords on electronic balloting.”
WebRoots Democracy’s recent Secure Voting report, backed by MPs from across the main political parties, was written by global experts and academics, and set out how the key risks of online voting can be mitigated.
Boles also admitted that the Government “expect statutory elections eventually to move towards online voting” reinforcing a significant progression of opinion by the Government on this issue compared to previous years.
Labour MP, Kevan Jones was critical of the need for a review:
“The Government pride themselves on wanting to be an e-Government on everything from driving licences to the new universal credit, which can only be accessed online. The Minister said the Government need to be convinced that e-balloting would be secure, but in response to numerous interventions by Labour Members, he did not articulate the reasons why he thought the process was in any way insecure. I would respect his position more if he came up with reasons and said what the problems are. The idea of a review is clearly the classic civil service kick it into the long grass approach.”
Celebrating the progress on this and other changes made to the Trade Union Bill, Frances O’Grady said:
“Today is a day to be proud. None of these positive changes would have happened without the trade union movement uniting to mount a major campaign against the bill. Union members marched, emailed, signed petitions, held local events, joined consultations, told their stories on billboards, and took part in the biggest ever mass lobby of MPs. We’ve had amazing support from allies across civil society, including human rights organisations, public sector employers, and politicians of all parties.”
The Government will now be required to commission the review within six months following Royal Assent.
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