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New code of practice on picketing in force from 11 March

Posted: 07/03/2024

A new code of practice on picketing comes into force on 11 March 2024, which updates the rules around lawful picketing.

A picket line is where workers and trade union representatives (‘picketers’ or ‘pickets’) stand outside a workplace to tell other people why they are striking. Pickets must not stop people from going to work or doing their usual work if they wish to do so.

The new code provides practical guidance on picketing, not just for those contemplating, organising, or taking part in a picket, but also for employers who may be affected by one.

Trade unions will have to pay careful attention, because where they organise any picketing, the union must appoint an official or other member of the union who is familiar with the new code to supervise the demonstration.

The new code outlines aspects of the law on picketing – sections B and C, respectively, set out provisions of civil and criminal law, section D describes the role of the police in enforcing the law, and sections E, F and G give guidance on good practice in relation to the conduct of particular aspects of picketing.

In addition, the new code highlights (but does not incorporate) the provisions on picketing in the code of practice on ‘reasonable steps’. This code applies where an employer serves a work notice on a trade union, in circumstances which are covered by minimum service level regulations (health services, fire and rescue, education, transport, decommissioning of nuclear installations and border security). The trade union must then take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure that those of its members identified in the notice attend for work during a strike. One of those ‘reasonable steps’ (step 3) addresses action that should be taken in relation to picketing.

It is notable that the Labour party, riding high in the opinion polls and heavily supported by trade unions, is committed to repealing anti-trade union legislation, including the Trade Union Act 2016, in order to remove what it sees as unnecessary restrictions on trade union activity. It follows that the new code could be further amended if Labour wins the next general election. 

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