Trade Union Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by Stuart Seaman (TUB 05)

I am a member and workplace rep of the National Union of Journalists.

These are my comments about provisions in the Trade Union Bill that affect me as a union member and rep.

Picket lines and protests

The requirement to appoint supervisors of picket lines with official authorization documents that the police or anyone who feels like it can demand to see is unduly onerous. The same goes for the requirement to identify oneself to the police in advance. I’m sure the police have better things to do.

Reporting plans for picket lines and protests 14 days in advance (apparently with times, places, numbers, paraphernalia such as banners etc) is unrealistic; it would be next to impossible to comply with this. As a workplace rep who has organized pickets, I know that the precise details and names are usually agreed the night before.

The proposed demand for advance notice of campaign methods including via social media is completely unreasonable and will be impossible to comply with. How can a union control what its members do and post on social media? The dividing line between official union and unofficial members’ posts will be impossible to police.

The scope for vexatious challenges is obvious. Perhaps that is the purpose. This can be selectively applied, as and when it suits, depending on the target. It is a method used by the Kremlin with some success (not so far-fetched when one Conservative MP has already described some of the Bill’s provisions as worthy of Franco’s Spain).

Ballot turnouts

The imposition of thresholds, set against the refusal to allow electronic or online voting, is unreasonable and points to an agenda. I see that electronic voting is acceptable for the Conservative Party to choose its London mayoral candidate.

Journalists can be called on to travel on assignments, which can be lengthy and abroad. They may not be able to familiarize themselves with the issues or to vote, especially if the vote is non-electronic. Turnout thresholds could hamper my union more than many.

Certification officer

The proposed power to investigate unions even if nobody has complained (so if the officer simply feels like it) is unreasonable. Like the picketing and social media stipulations, it is needless red tape and a recipe for vexatious challenges and for unions to be victimized and threatened with being financially crippled.

Facility time

This is time well spent. In fact much of my trade union activity takes place in my own free time. But I do make use of facility time to prepare for meetings with members and to support them in resolving workplace issues. This time saves the employer resources in the long run, by avoiding escalation.

As a workplace rep I have helped members to resolve issues with the employer that could have gone to Tribunal. And I have helped members to file cases at Tribunal as a last resort - these were resolved before trial, again saving the employer the cost of full proceedings. (On the single occasion I did help a member all the way to Tribunal, the employer lost the case.)

The requirement for public sector employers to publish detailed statistics on facility time will cause unnecessary red tape and seems designed to provide ammunition for those who do not understand the benefits of facility time and would have it curtailed or banned.

Political funds

My union (the NUJ) is not affiliated to any political party and nor am I. But I believe that the proposed changes to the way that unions fund political activities including the Labour Party are an attack on the Labour Party’s finances and are damaging to democracy. They could also be counter-productive: a future non-Conservative government might like to examine the non-transparent and undemocratic corporate funding of the Conservative Party. Governments should legislate in the national interest and not for partisan political advantage.

Strike action

The assumption seems to be that union members go on strike at the drop of a hat. I can assure you that is not the case. Unlike some people (and dare I say it, some MPs) I have no source of income other than the day job - no consultancies, or non-exec directorships or after-dinner engagements on the side - so the loss of a day’s pay matters. Striking is a last resort.

October 2015

Prepared 14th October 2015