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'We planned a dispute by Blackberry' : the impact of restrictions on the use of social media in industrial action in the light of the British Airways dispute - 2009-11

Moore, Sian and Taylor, Philip (2016) 'We planned a dispute by Blackberry' : the impact of restrictions on the use of social media in industrial action in the light of the British Airways dispute - 2009-11. Industrial Law Journal. ISSN 0305-9332

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Abstract

The Trade Union Bill 2015-16, was expected to receive royal assent in April 2016. The legislation enshrines the Conservative Government’s plans to reform trade unions and ‘to protect essential public services against strikes’ . Central features are the proposed changes to thresholds for industrial action in strike ballots, to the notice period for strike action, to the time limit in which industrial action can be taken, to union check-off arrangements and to the operation of union political funds. In parallel with the introduction of the Bill, the Government published an 8-week public consultation which asked whether statutory measures should be taken to tackle the intimidation of non-striking workers during industrial disputes . In the Consultation the Government stated its intention to reform and modernise the rules relating to picketing, including the possible extension of the Code on picketing to protests linked to industrial action which may encompass the use of social media. The Consultation found little support for Government proposals and in particular the suggestion that unions give two weeks’ notice of plans for picketing and protests, including the intended use of social media this has been dropped. However, the government has stated that it will update the Code of Practice on Picketing to include guidance on the use of social media . This paper draws on our research on the 2009-11 British Airways strikes to consider the Government’s aspiration to widen the definition of industrial action to include protests away from the workplace, particularly organised by, or involving, social media. It will demonstrate the reality of the use of social media during the industrial action at BA, where it became another site of conflict between the union and employer, and speculate upon possible consequences of its inclusion in the Code of Practice.