Case - Metroline Travel v. Unite

[2012] EWHC 1778 (QB),[2012] IRLR 749 , Queen's Bench Division - Lord Hendy QC, Michael Ford QC

An interim injunction was granted against a union preventing its members, who were bus drivers, from engaging in industrial action in protest of the refusal of their employers to pay them a bonus for working during the Olympic Games as it was likely that the union would fail to establish at trial that it had complied with the statutory notice requirements to be given to employers pursuant to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 Pt V, before calling for industrial action.

The claimant bus companies (B) applied for interim injunctions to restrain the defendant trade union (U) from calling upon its members to take part in industrial action.

B had refused U's demand to pay U's members a £500 bonus for working during the Olympic and Para Olympic Games. U gave notice to B of its intention to hold a ballot for industrial action over the non-payment (the ballot notice). U notified B of the result which was in favour of strike action. The Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 s.219(1) protected a union from liability in tort in relation to actions amounting to an inducement of another to break his contract of employment; however, that protection was subject to compliance by the union with certain statutory requirements. Section 226A(1)(a) specified the information that the union had to supply to the employer in advance of the ballot, and required it to ensure that the employer received information of employees who were entitled to vote in the ballot. Pursuant to s.226A(2C), the notice had to contain information to enable the employer to deduce the total number of employees concerned, the categories of employee to which they belonged and where they worked. The ballot notice to B stated that the union intended to send ballot papers to all members who were drivers; engineering grades and supervisory grades working on Transport for London (TfL) contracts either on a full-time or part-time basis employed at identified locations. The strike notice was in similar terms.

B submitted that (1) the ballot and strike notices were imprecise and did not comply with the statutory requirements and, therefore, the union could not successfully invoke the immunity from legal action in respect of the strike; (2) damages would not be an adequate remedy and the balance of convenience favoured the grant of the relief sought.

HELD: (1) The legislative purpose of the notice provisions was to enable an employer to know which part or parts of its workforce were being invited to take industrial action so that it could best prepare for such action if it took place UNISON v Westminster City Council [2001] EWCA Civ 443, [2001] I.C.R. 1046 considered. B could not readily deduce from the information supplied in the ballot notices: (a) the total number of employees concerned; (b) the categories of employee to which the employees concerned belonged and the number of employees concerned in each of those categories and; (c) the workplaces at which they worked and the number that worked there. The phrase "working on TfL contracts either on a full-time or part-time basis " was clearly imprecise. It was not clear that it included employees who "might be expected" to work on such contracts or those who were "associated with" TfL work or those working on TfL contracts whether "directly" or "indirectly" (see paras 54, 56-58 of judgment). (2) Under s.221(2) the court was required on an application for an interim injunction, to have regard to the likelihood of the statutory immunity being established at trial. In the instant case, it was unlikely that U would be able to establish at trial that it had complied with the statutory requirements in respect of the ballot notice and that the information to which B had a statutory entitlement had been provided. The same conclusion applied in relation to the strike action (paras 23, 61). (3) There had been no delay or conduct by B that would warrant the withholding of the relief sought. In having regard to the balance of convenience, the very serious inconvenience that the proposed action was likely to cause to the public was to be taken into account (paras 65,67).

Application granted

Counsel for the defendant: John Hendy QC leading Michael Ford.
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