On 15 July 2015 the Government published a draft Bill for consultation under the banner of the 'Trade Union Bill'. The Bill will apply to England, Wales and Scotland, but not to Northern Ireland where employment law and trade union rights are a devolved matter.
- The draft Bill contains wide-ranging measures designed to restrict the ability of unions and their members to organise collectively and take industrial action.
- Measures include thresholds for turnouts in strike ballots, restrictions on the right to picket and the removal of the ban on the use of agency workers to replace striking workers.
- The Government is extending the role and powers of the Certification Officer, including providing the Certification Officer with a new power to impose financial penalties on unions.
- Extensive new red tape will be imposed on unions, as we will be expected to pay for the costs of existing and additional reporting requirements through a new levy which will cover the costs of the Certification Officer.
- We will be required to report annually on levels of industrial action and on how political funds have been used.
- The Bill also requires employers to report on resources allocated for facility time in the public sector, and in organisations providing public services. This reflects the current practice in most of the civil service but potentially goes further. The Government is also taking powers to impose a cap on the amount of facility time paid in each public authority.
- Power to reduce the statutory rights of trade union officials to paid time off. In addition the Bill gives the government the power to interfere in individuals' contracts of employment and collective agreements which provide for facility time, even though these are voluntarily agreed by public sector employers.
What can you do?
The Bill will be debated in both Houses of Parliament. We know that many MPs do take notice of the messages they receive from constituents so one of the most helpful actions NCOA members could take is to write to your local MP expressing your opposition to the Bill and concerns about its contents. While we are not producing a template letter for members (because these tend to be filtered out), here are some points you might like to consider making:
- As a small trade union, the NCOA will be disproportionately affected by the increases to bureaucracy proposed and the Certification Officer levy will apply to all unions regardless of size or actions.
- There is no justification for these draconian policies; the number of days lost to industrial action per year has fallen dramatically over the last 30 years: since 2010 on average 647,000 days have been lost to industrial action each year compared with 7,213,000 in the 1980s.
- Half of NCOA members are prohibited from taking industrial action and the other half would only do so as a last resort. It is a fundamental right for all working people to have the option to take industrial action.
- The proposals make the rules around industrial action unclear and will hamper employee relations and inhibit negotiated agreements.
- Changes to the rules on picketing and protest unfairly single out trade union protests and appear to criminalise legitimate protest.
- Prescriptions surrounding the use of websites and social media are draconian in the extreme giving the police and others unprecedented powers over trade union communications.
- The continued prohibition of electronic balloting for statutory ballots supports the view that the purpose of these reforms is to impede trade unions, not to encourage democracy as claimed.
- The removal on restrictions on agency workers being employed to cover striking workers poses very real risks to the competent delivery of public services. Many public sector workers are security checked, thoroughly trained professionals, it is not tenable for agency workers to simply be drafted in overnight to fill in these roles.
- The NCOA believes that disputes are best solved by dialogue, we urge the Government to seek to resolve disputes through negotiation not seeking to legislate to limit opposition.
We expect the Trade Union Bill to be debated in Parliament over the next few months. The Second Reading date has yet to be announced but the speculation is that this will be during the week beginning 14 September.
We will keep NCOA members informed as developments occur.