The Trade Union Bill Devastating Attack On Pay And Terms And Conditions At Work Explained

With the media in TV and newspapers, not to mention on social networking, neglecting to tell the whole story about the Trade Union Bill: members of the public and trade union members too, can be forgiven for asking "Just what are the issues and why should I be concerned".

Here the TUC briefing document explains why the Trade Union Bill currently going through the House of Lords will have such a detrimental affect upon democracy and worker’s rights in this country that it will take us back to the 1700s when worker’s rights did not exist.

At the end of this page you will see links to downloading the Trade Union Bill and read it for yourself.

The main areas of serious concern are discussed below:

1. Agency workers

The government plans to allow agency workers to replace striking workers. And by requiring 14 days’ notice of strike action (rather than 7 as at present), employers will have more time to arrange agency workers to cover for strikes. This has been banned in the UK since 1973.

What are our concerns?

  • This fundamentally undermines the right to strike, as it reduces the impact of strike action, and upsets the power balance between workers and employers.
  • These changes will make the UK an outlier in Europe. Across the EU large agencies have agreed not to use agency workers to replace striking workers.
  • There are health and safety concerns about inexperienced replacement workers taking on the roles of the permanent workforce.
  • Inexperienced agency workers replacing strikers might lead to poorer quality services.

2. Picketing and protests

Unions will have to appoint picket supervisors. They will be required to carry a letter of authorisation which must be presented upon request to the police or “to any other person who reasonably asks to see it”. The supervisor’s details must be given to the police and they must be identifiable by an armband or badge.
Failure to comply could result in a court injunction to stop the picket, or thousands of pounds of damages for the union. Local authorities could also have the right to issue anti-social behaviour orders to picket line participants or protesters.

What are our concerns?

  • Existing law already requires union members to comply with tough picketing rules. The new regulations are overly bureaucratic and the penalties are disproportionate.
  • The protest restrictions are unjustified and would divert already scarce police resources away from tackling serious crime.
  • Unions are currently required to give 7 days’ notice before industrial action takes place. Doubling the notice period for strike action to 14 days will undermine negotiations and allow employers to recruit agency workers to cover for strikers.
  • This level of scrutiny and monitoring is excessive, undermining freedom of speech and threatening the civil liberties of working people who should be free to defend their rights.

3. Thresholds

In ‘important public services’ (fire, health, education, transport, border security and nuclear decommissioning), 50% of members must turn out to vote and 40% of the entire membership must vote in favour (that amounts to 80% of those voting, on a 50% turnout).
The government argues these thresholds are aimed at boosting democracy in the workplace.

What are our concerns?

  • Strikes are always a last resort but sometimes they are the only way to resolve disputes at work – including in those industries and occupations included in the government’s definition of ‘important public services’.
  • The government’s definition of ‘important public services’ is wider than the definition of ‘essential services’ in international law.
  • If the government was committed to increasing democracy it would allow secure electronic and workplace strike ballots instead of arbitrary thresholds. Online voting is already used by several national membership organisations including the RNIB, the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, the National Trust, the Magistrates’ Association, the Countryside Alliance and the Royal College of Surgeons. And it is regularly used by political parties – including by the Conservative party to select their London Mayoral candidate.

4. Regulating unions

The Certification Officer (who regulates unions) will be given powers to investigate unions and access membership lists even if no-one has complained about a union’s activities. The regulator will also be able to impose fines of up to £20,000 on unions. The government will be able to charge unions to cover the running costs of the Certification Officer. Costs are likely to increase as the regulator has new responsibilities.

What are our concerns?

  • There is no reason why the trade union regulator needs new powers now.
  • Giving the Certification Officer the power to confiscate copies of membership records and other documents is an intrusion on union members’ privacy and their right to have an independent relationship with their union.
  • Significant new costs will be placed on unions to pay for this red tape – money that could be better spent protecting and promoting the rights of workers.

5. Public sector facility time

All public sector employers will have to publish information on the cost of time off for union reps, plus a breakdown of what facility time is used for – collective bargaining, representing members in grievances or disciplinary action, or running training programmes.

Public sector employers won’t be able to offer the option of paying for union membership direct through salaries anymore (“check-off”).

The government will be able to cap the time public sector employers allow union reps to spend representing members.

What are our concerns?

  • These changes will restrict public sector employers from investing in good relations with their own employees.
  • Deductions at payroll are a common way that employers help their employees manage their money – often childcare, travel, bike or computer payments are made this way. It’s not clear why union membership fees should be singled out.
  • These moves will reduce unions’ ability to represent their members and resolve disputes before they escalate.
  • Individual public sector employers should have the freedom to decide how they manage employment relations.
  • The changes add more red tape for unions, whose time and money would be best spent serving members.

Be under no illusion, even those changes which apply only initially to the public sector workers and their Trade Unions; they will soon be introduced by the private sector employers too!

Pic: Loud and proud - click to get detailsThe CWU is fully supporting the TUC week and in particular the day of events planned for 11th February at workplaces around the country.

CWU branches and members are being asked to really focus efforts
through organised workplace protests.

This day is about CWU members showing everybody that you are proud to be a member of our union.

Regions are being asked to organise leafleting at mainline train stations on the day to further highlight the roles
that unions play in society.

We would like CWU branches and members across the UK to take selfies and workplace photos using the
poster on the other side of the membership communication that we will be sending to all home addresses.

Once you have taken them you should post them on to the CWU Facebook and Twitter pages using the hashtag

Full event details can be read here

Download the Trade Union Bill here

Download the CWU briefing on the Trade Union Bill here

Source: CWU / TUC / House of Commons

Posted: 1st January 2016

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