Trade Disputes Act 1965

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The Trade Disputes Act 1965 is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom, which supported closed shop practices in industrial relations. The principal effect was to reverse the legal position established by Rookes v Barnard in 1964,[1] in which the threat of strike action from a union resulted in the sacking of a worker who had recently left that union. The House of Lords, acting as the highest court of appeal, held that the threat of strike action was unlawful intimidation.

The Trades Union Congress was concerned that the case would set a precedent for lawsuits against trade unions in a wide range of circumstances. Civil law had been one of the main tools employers used against unions in their early days until the Trade Disputes Act 1906 gave unions immunity from certain torts (including conspiracy) when taken in pursuit of an industrial dispute.[2] However, intimidation was not covered under the Trades Disputes Act, and it seemed possible that the Rookes vs Barnard judgement would support classifying a strike in any closed shop dispute as unlawful 'intimidation'.

As a result, the Labour government of Harold Wilson introduced legislation to restore the status quo from before the case. The Act specified that a threat to withhold one's own labour or to induce others to do the same could give no cause for action in tort. However, a case of 'intimidation' in the everyday sense (for instance, a threat of physical violence) in the course of an industrial dispute would still be unlawful for the same reasons as set out in the case.[3]

The Conservatives sought to amend the legislation to exclude the protection if the dispute was regarding the continued employment of an individual. That was intended to undermine the practice of the closed shop, the subject of the original case.

The closed shop was eroded by the Conservative government in the 1980s and eventually banned by the Employment Act 1990.


  1. ^ Paul O'Higgins (April 1966). "Trade Disputes Act, 1965". The Cambridge Law Journal. 24 (1): 34–35. doi:10.1017/S0008197300014008.
  2. ^ James G. Moher (17 September 2007). "Trade unions and the law – history and a way forward?". History & Policy. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  3. ^ J. S. Colyer. A Modern View of the Law of Torts: The Commonwealth and International. p. 185.