Trade Union Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by the Society of Radiographers (TUB 04)

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1 The Society of Radiographers is the trade union and professional body representing over 28,000 members working at all levels in diagnostic imaging and radiotherapy. The vast majority are registered radiographers although our membership extends to others working in radiography including assistant practitioners and support workers. Over 85% of radiographers in the UK are members. We are democratic, led by a Council of elected members with policy determined by an annual delegates conference. Our work is transparent and we are, at all times, accountable to our membership.

1.2 Most members are employed in the NHS throughout the UK. Around 3000 work in the private sector. We rely on our local workplace representatives to provide members with representation with one representative in each workplace to cover industrial relations issues. We also have 388 Health and Safety representatives undertaking the role of protecting the health and safety of members and 209 Trade Union Learning representatives who assist members with their continuing professional development which they are required to evidence as part of their professional registration. We are committed to the partnership model of industrial relations.

1.3 We are proud affiliates of the TUC. We have contributed to their response to this consultation and support its conclusions. In this response we focus on areas of specific concern to us and on the unfair and disproportionate impact much of the Bill will have on our members. We also comment on the publicised position of Government to allow agency workers to cover for striking workers. Although not part of the Bill itself this must also be seen in the context of the comments we make below.

1.4 Radiographers are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). They are therefore subject to the HCPCs Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics. This places upon our members a requirement to act in the best interests of patients. [1] This is supplemented by our own Code of Professional Conduct requiring radiographers to promote and protect the best interests of patients at all times. [2]

1.5 Our members are therefore subject to stringent regulatory and professional obligations ensuring they act at all times in the interests of their patients. These obligations dictate how a radiographer works and has a significant impact on the conduct of our members even when they take strike action. This response takes into account this background and the requirements already placed upon our members externally and through our own guidance. We believe Government may not be briefed in detail on organisations such as ours and it is therefore our considered opinion that the introduction of the provisions of the Bill will create an unhelpful industrial relations climate making it more difficult for our members to put patient interests first even during industrial action. Inevitably this will adversely impact of patient care.

2. BACKGROUND

2.1 Our members rarely take industrial action. In the last 35 years we have had two national stoppages. One for four hours in 2011 protesting at cuts to pensions and simultaneous increases in contributions. Our members also took three short stoppages during the 2014/15 pay campaign after the coalition government rejected the recommendation of the Independent Pay Review Body to increase NHS pay by 1%. This was resolved when government belatedly applied the 1% increase to most workers in the NHS.

2.2 Occasionally members are involved in local disputes. Usually these occur where members work long, unlawful, and dangerous hours covering out of hours work. When resolved members often see a reduction in pay but can go to work without feeling exhausted and better able to comply with their professional and regulatory obligations to patients. Unfortunately it can take strike action to concentrate the minds of NHS managers even where the issue is unequivocally related to the safety of patients.

2.3 Nevertheless members rarely take strike action. When they do it is unquestionably a last resort when discussions have failed. However, when they strike we agree detailed arrangements ensuring that while patients may be inconvenienced their care is not compromised. Indeed, after the pay dispute ended the Secretary of State for Health thanked the unions for maintaining patient safety and the quality of care. Of course for our members the commitment to patients is paramount as evidenced by the documents already referred to.

2.4 This submission looks at areas of the 2015 Trade Union Bill of particular concern to our members. Enhancing our democratic and transparent process, we also conducted a membership survey on the Bill, the results of which have been used to inform this submission. The results can be found at Annex 1 and we draw the committees’ attention to the fact that nearly 80% responding felt the Bill’s measures adversely impact on patient safety.

3. INDUSTRIAL ACTION BALLOT THRESHOLDS

3.1 Even for a relatively small organisation such as ours the proposed new ballot thresholds make it more unlikely that members would participate in industrial action and would thus curtail their right to strike.

3.2 Our members rarely strike over their pay and conditions. Occasionally, however, it is necessary to strike on issues of patient safety and working hours. Imposing threshold requirements without a parallel decision to allow modern electronic methods of participation in the ballots will undoubtedly make it more difficult for our members to take, or even threaten, industrial action in these circumstances.

3.3 The Government have promoted this Bill as enhancing trade union democracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of our members abstain from voting in industrial action ballots. This is a principled position they wish to take but then abide by the decision and participate. Unfortunately this Bill will no longer allow members to abstain and would instead regard them as voting against industrial action. This is unfair, disproportionate and has no respect whatsoever for the principle of abstaining.

3.4 During the 2014/15 pay dispute 75% of our members participated in strike action, although only 43% participated in the ballot.

3.5 This is explained by two factors. First that many members think carefully before taking industrial action ensuring their professional and regulatory obligations are not being compromised. An abstention in the vote, but support for the overall decision, recognises this and should be permitted and not treated as a vote against as it will be if this provision of the Bill becomes law.

3.6 Secondly we are still prevented from using secure on line means of voting. In our survey (appendix 1) it can be seen that 83% of members would be more likely to participate in industrial action ballots if electronic voting were to be allowed.

3.7 It is unfair that legislation still prevents unions from using these methods. No other sector of society is restricted in this way. Company AGMs, other voluntary groups, Building Societies, and political parties all use electronic means of voting if they wish. Shares are securely traded on-line. The fact that this remains illegal for industrial action ballots show this is a Bill that aims to restrict strike action and is not concerned about assisting unions to ensure their members participate more fully.

3.8 Our student members qualifying this year and registering with the HCPC have lived their entire life with home computers, the internet and email. They are comfortable using all forms of new technology. They routinely bank on-line and pay for things securely using contactless payment cards. Government should be mindful of the message it is sending to this generation of trade unionists who unanimously believe that it is not government’s role to prevent the use of modern technology by their trade union.

3.9 We therefore propose amending the Bill to allow unions to use secure online voting methods. Our survey shows this would help achieve the participation levels government wants.

4. PICKET LINE ARRANGEMENTS

4.1 We believe the provisions in the Bill to further regulate picket lines are unnecessary and harm the good industrial relations maintained during a strike. The requirement to give names to the police raise human rights issues and could be used for blacklisting purposes by the worst employers.

4.2 We believe this will have an adverse impact on the conduct of picket lines. The Bill’s proposals imply that strikes, trade unions and trade unionists taking strike action are motivated by self interest, are aggressive and hold the public at gunpoint while pursuing their own interests at the expense of customers, patients, passengers or pupils. Nothing could be further from the truth.

4.3 Picket lines involving our members are disciplined and show respect for patients and other colleagues not on strike. The professional and regulatory standards required of our members apply at all times whether at work or not. If our members fall short of these standards while on a picket line they can be referred to the regulatory body (HCPC) and potentially struck off. There are no examples of a member’s conduct on a picket line leading to a referral which shows just how unnecessary these proposals are.

4.4 Our picket lines are flexible allowing members to show support for strike action but also to return to work, while still on strike, honouring our commitment to patient care during the strike action. Whilst we always aim to keep within the guidelines on picketing, members on a picket line will be changing regularly even during a four hour stoppage. The responsibilities placed on the picket line supervisor are therefore unrealistic for an organisation such as ours with our responsibilities to patients, particularly for members employed in radiotherapy treating patients whose treatment is quite clearly time critical.

4.5 In addition, as a small organisation, responsibility for picket line supervision falls on members. Understandably they will be reluctant to accept this responsibility meaning the picket line itself will be unlawful under the Bill.

4.6 These provisions need to be scrapped. Legal redress is available where there is intimidation but is rarely used. Picket lines tend to be good natured and friendly. Often people are leaving and joining whilst at the same time seeing patients. Should this become law our members on strike will not attend the workplace making them unavailable to provide care.

4.7 We believe these provisions demonstrate a prejudicial view of unions and members and fail to recognise the commitment healthcare professionals show to patients during strikes and when on a picket line.

5. POLITICAL FUND ARRANGEMENTS

5.1 We are preparing to ballot members on the establishment of a political fund as a direct result of the changes made to the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 by Part II of the 2014 Lobbying Act and the threat posed to our long-established campaigning The rules of the fund prevent it being used for affiliation to a political party.

5.2 The new requirements to opt-in to paying into a political fund and for a reballot every five years are unfair, burdensome, and unnecessary, implying that every trade union political fund is used to affiliate to the Labour Party.

5.3 Establishing a fund will ensure we continue to speak up on behalf of members, their patients and on behalf of the profession. Without a political fund we are concerned that we could be stopped from doing this by politicians who do not like what we say. When we speak out on issues such as hospital closures, patient safety, developing the role of the radiographer to allow prescribing and reporting, the impact of being a shortage profession in radiotherapy and against cuts in protected study time, we do so because our members want us to. We need to establish a political fund to ensure we can continue to do this, as is our democratic right, on behalf of members and their patients.

5.4 The Bill makes it more difficult for us to establish a viable fund and potentially reduce our effectiveness in speaking out for our members and their patients. Any opt-in arrangement inevitably reduces take up. That is why the coalition Government introduced opt-out in relation to the auto-enrolment of working people into pension funds.

5.5 Legislation already requires a ballot of all members to establish the fund allowing those who wish to, to opt-out once it is established. As we will not affiliate to any political party and have a position of political independence we make no comment regarding using political funds for affiliation purposes. However, there is no justification whatsoever for requiring opt-in in our circumstance where the rules of the fund, as overseen by the Certification Officer, rule affiliation out and instead allow our organisation to challenge decisions of politicians regardless of political party. Any limit on this is anti-democratic and concerns not just those with an interest in trade union rights but also those with an interest in human rights.

5.6 These provisions need to be scrapped.

6. FACILITY TIME ARRANGEMENTS

6.1 The proposals to abolish check off or DOCAS do not affect us so we make no comment other than to say the proposals ignore the fact that these arrangements are commercial arrangements between unions and employers. There is no place for Government to legislate in relation to such commercial arrangements.

6.2 We are very concerned about the proposals in relation to facility time. Again we conclude that these proposals are based on a mistaken and prejudicial view of the role of local trade union representatives.

6.3 Again there is no place for Government to legislate here. Each NHS Trust or health board is a separate employer and facility time arrangements are agreed through the collective bargaining process. This is not an area for government to legislate, as is proposed in the reserve powers contained in the Bill.

6.4 The concept of ensuring industrial relations issues are resolved at the lowest possible level by the people impacted by them is a fundamental cornerstone of the partnership approach to good industrial relations. Time off for local representatives is therefore efficient, cost-effective and cheap ensuring matters are not escalated unnecessarily. Restricting facility time in the way proposed damages this approach immeasurably, resulting in far more issues being passed to full time officials of unions who inevitably will not have local knowledge needed to resolve matters. Conflict will inevitably increase and harm the partnership approach embedded within the NHS.

6.5 Of particularly concern is that Health and Safety Representatives and Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) are included in the Bills provisions. The positive work of health and safety representatives is well documented and the work of SoR H&S reps is widely respected throughout the NHS by all as being impartial and evidence based, providing much needed expertise on issues such as compliance with the Ionising Radiation Medical Exposure Regulations.

6.6 Our ULRs provide an essential service in assisting members with their ongoing commitment to Continuing Professional Development, a commitment they are required to regularly evidence if they are to maintain their registration.

6.7 These representatives deliver significant savings to the NHS as we share the responsibility for ensuring members are working safely and able to maintain their professional registration.

6.8 Including Health and Safety reps and ULRs in the facility time provisions will do nothing to improve industrial relations instead leading to the NHS incurring greater cost than at present. Industrial Relations reps make a huge contribution to ensuring partnership working is embedded at every level in the NHS. Any reference to the NHS should be removed from the Bill. Facility time is a matter for individual NHS employers to decide on and not one for legislation.

7. USE OF AGENCY STAFF

7.1 We also understand that Government is planning to allow agency staff to be used during a period of industrial action. This separate but related consultation is deeply worrying. At present when members take industrial action we put in place clear and detailed guidance to members to ensure patient care is maintained. In the case of members working in radiotherapy this advice stipulates the criteria for assessing which patients should be treated during a strike and is externally verified.

7.2 We believe the use of agency workers to do the job of radiographers on strike will inevitably have a detrimental impact on patient care. There will be no role for us to ensure service levels are maintained. Agency workers will be registered radiographers but will lack detailed knowledge and team working experience excellent patient care relies on. Our experience is that there is a disproportionate number of referrals to the HCPC of radiographers working for agencies and a higher number receive their training from outside of the UK.

7.3 We believe we show professional leadership in ensuring patient care is fully protected when our members are on strike but the proposals to use agency staff will at best hinder this and at worse make it impossible to achieve inevitably putting patients at greater risk.

8. SUMMARY

- We believe the 2015 TU Bill is unnecessary and counter-productive. It will do nothing to improve industrial relations, but will do the opposite. It is not needed and it will make it far more difficult for our members to ensure patient safety when they take strike action.

- Its provisions in relation to Facility Time, Picket Lines and Political Funds should be scrapped.

- The facility time proposals will harm the partnership approach to industrial relations embedded in the NHS and make it more difficult for problems to be resolved locally by those directly affected.

- The picket line proposals fail to appreciate the professional and regulatory standards our members must apply at all times and place unnecessary and burdensome requirements on what are always peaceful affairs.

- The political fund proposals are undemocratic and will make it unnecessarily difficult for organisations like ours to stand up for members, their patients and for their profession.

- The proposals for ballot thresholds are also unnecessary but if Government is concerned about participation in these ballots the restriction on trade unions using modern, secure means of voting must end. Unless they do this the Bill will be regarded as an attack on trade unions, an attack which Government appears to want to pursue with little or no regard for the adverse impact on the excellent industrial relations that exist in most parts of the NHS or, in our case, for the adverse impact it will have on patient safety.

September 2015


APPENDIX 1

SOCIETY OF RADIOGRAPHERS – TRADE UNION BILL SURVEY RESULTS

Q1. Do you think it is fair that members of trade unions working in essential services such as the NHS should have different rules?

Response: Yes 21.7%

No 78.3%

Q2. Would you be more likely to participate in industrial action ballots if we were allowed to use secure online voting methods?

Response: Yes 83.3%

No 16.7%

Q3. Do you think allowing agency workers to take over the jobs of trade union members on strike would impact on patient safety?

Response: Yes 79.2%

No 20.8%

Q4. Do you think the restrictions that will be placed on trade union members using social media during industrial action are fair and workable?

Response: Yes 15.2%

No 84.8%

Q5. If the Trade Union Bill does become law is it likely to have any effect on the way you would vote in the future?

Response: Yes 62.6%

No 37.4%


[1] Page 3 of the Standards: http://www.hcpc-uk.org/assets/documents/10003B6EStandardsofconduct,performanceandethics.pdf

[2] Paragraph 1.7 of SCoR Code of Professional Conduct: http://www.sor.org/learning/document-library/code-professional-conduct

Prepared 14th October 2015