Trade Union Bill Committee

Written evidence submitted by UNITE

This evidence is put forward by Unite the Union. Unite is the UK’s largest trade union with 1.4 million members across the private and public sectors. The union’s members work in a range of industries including all the manufacturing and transport sectors, financial services, print, media, construction, local government, education, health and not for profit sectors.

1. Unite is in a position to provide the Committee with evidence based on our experience of workplace ballots and analysis of information from others, which is particularly relevant to the issues. We would be happy to supplement this evidence orally on 13 October or provide other evidence at a hearing. In seeking to assist the Committee focusing on the issue of democracy and workplace ballots, we do not want to undermine our other evidence and responses to the Bill and related matters, including on using agency workers [1] to break strikes and on human rights and the rule of law.

2. Sajid Javid, the Minister responsible for the Bill in the Commons says in the explanatory notes to the Bill, in relation to the European Convention on Human Rights: "In my view the provisions of the Trade Union Bill are compatible with the Convention rights."

3. This is a dismissive affront to Human Rights, Fundamental Freedoms and the Rule of Law [2] . Unite is bound to ask itself whether it is right to break domestic laws that are themselves so far beyond the pale of international laws and standards mainly founded on British requirements after World War II.

4. Sajid Javid’s only response to the House at Second Reading to the calls for secure workplace ballots was: "I assume the hon. Gentleman is referring to e-balloting, but I am concerned about fraud and that the identities of people voting in a secret ballot may be revealed. In fact, the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy, which looked at the use of digital apparatus in elections, also shared those concerns. I do not think it would have been appropriate to suggest such changes."

5. This is an affront to democracy and to the intelligence of our members.

6. We will deal with fraud, identity and the Speaker’s Commission below. There is strong evidence of the successful use of workplace ballots under the auspices of the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) since 2000, in relation to the law on recognition.

7. Analysis of the CAC data on workplace ballots is set out in the first appendix to this document. The headline data is that between 2000 and 2014 there were 862 applications for trade union recognition, and of these 209 went to a ballot of the workforce. There were 63 CAC ballots that were conducted at the workplace (including ‘combination ballots’ [3] ). For workplaces with bargaining units of more than 50 workers in both forms of ballot recorded a return rate of more than 52%. The mean average return rate in workplace ballots (including combination ballots) was 88%. In those ballots of more than 50 workers, all workplace ballots (including combination) had a return rate of over 87%.

8. It bears emphasis that these are not usually electronic workplace ballots. There is no evidence of fraud. Indeed there is no evidence of problems with the workplace ballots at all.

The CAC annual report for 2009/2010 refers to the introduction in 2004 of "the facility to complain that another party was using an ‘unfair practice’ during the balloting period… potentially a contentious provision, because perhaps there is sometimes a fine line between vigorous campaigning and undue pressure, but, to date, the CAC has received only six complaints." In the 2007/2008 report [4] we read: "There have now been six such complaints and the CAC has yet to uphold one." There must have been one such complaint outstanding at that time, because in the following year’s report [5] there is specific reference to one complaint by the CWU, but the union’s complaint was not upheld.

9. Since then in every year the following sentence appears in each annual report [6] :

"The CAC was not called upon to adjudicate on any complaints that a party had used an unfair practice during the balloting period."

10. Electoral Reform Services [7] told us recently:

I. "Section 54 of the Employment Relations Act 2004 provides that any ballot or election authorised or required by the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act 1992 (the 1992 Act) conducted by a particular means of voting must meet a "required standard".

II. A ballot or election meets "the required standard" if it is such that:-

a) those entitled to vote have an opportunity to do so;

b) votes cast are secret;

c) the risk of any unfairness or malpractice is minimised.

III. ERS believes that "the required standard" when the place of voting is the workplace can readily be met providing the union and the administrator ensure that certain standards, practices and processes are adhered to (as they have been since 2000 in the context of recognition ballots).

IV. Those entitled to vote have an opportunity to do so

This will require:-

a. arrangements with the employer regarding access to employees at all workplaces for sufficient periods to enable all members to vote at all workplaces or, alternatively, appropriate polling places established near the place of work or outside the place of work could be established (e.g. mobile polling stations)

b. arrangements for members who are not at the workplace for any reason on the day of polling must be adequately provided for.

V. Votes cast are secret

This is relatively straightforward to achieve: any workplace ballot would be conducted in line with public elections, polling station rules. The actual process of voting could either by the marking of a ballot paper or indeed using a tablet device – both would provide secrecy.

VI. Unfairness or malpractice

Again, arrangements can be put in place to deal with this and the ballot should be monitored appropriately.

The issue of members identifying themselves in the workplace is not problematic. With the notice letters and description requirements as they are, members are already identifiable [8] . The difference is that they are only identified to the union and the employer and not necessarily to their co-workers.  Whilst it could be argued that undue pressure is placed on individuals to have to almost openly declare their membership to vote, some sort of opt out of workplace ballot should be available for members who were concerned, which could also deal with the issue for those who are not at work on the day referred to above.

In practice a correctly administered polling station would provide greater security of the actual than a postal ballot so unfairness and malpractice in relation to the administrative vote casting process would be reduced.

11. No doubt the Committee will be aware of electronic balloting in other contexts, such as selection for the Conservative mayoral candidate. Presumably there were no insurmountable concerns about fraud for this election.  Another example is the Labour Party’s recent leadership election - possibly the biggest e-ballot in UK voting history and for which there was no evidence of widespread fraud, in spite of claims by some sections of the media and MPs.

12. Unite inevitably has vast experience of balloting, not least in the context of industrial disputes. Given the state of the law, including the ease with which injunctions are granted [9] , we have to apply enormous resources. The problems of postal balloting are huge. The problem of maintaining up to date postal addresses of 1.4 million people is vast – people simply do not notify the union, in good time or at all. They access the unions services at the work place, by telephone or online.

13. We have many examples that we can give of problems with balloting and challenges we have faced. When technicalities under domestic law are used by employers and the court nullifies the effect of a ballot, in the face of the members’ overwhelming vote to take industrial action, we have to re-ballot. One such challenge by British Airways was based on the failure to notify our members that there were 6 spoilt ballot papers in relation to a ballot of about 10,000 members. Clearly that does not help industrial relations.

14. Northampton General Hospital NHS Trust, was so keen to force its 78 biomedical staff, to take a £6,000 a year pay cut and a doubling of their night shift patterns, they locked them out first sought to bring in agency workers and then to make those agency workers into personal service limited companies.

15. It is not uncommon for disputes to arise in the context of risks to the health, safety and lives of our members and the public, such as in relation to airlines seeking to reduce the number of cabin crew on flights to dangerous levels.  Another dispute recently have involved refusal to have a health and safety committee at Sellafield.

16. We currently have a dispute with six companies that supply catering and auxiliary services to offshore oil and gas rigs in the North Sea, after the employers withdrew the 2015/16 pay award, agreed and accepted as part of a two year pay deal. Whilst the union was successful in defending the legal action previously, our legal advice and experience of the law in practice means we are having to try to provide details of the member workplaces, when there are more than 250 rigs, platforms and floating hotels and members move from one to another. Understandably the members, officials and staff are extremely frustrated.

17. We return now to Sajid Javid’s remarks and make additional comments that, although it has not been seen to take place in the context of union workplace ballots in relation to recognition, fraud can and allegedly has taken place in elections by post. There are a number of examples in relation to political elections. Sajid Javid was wrong to say that the identities of people voting in a secret ballot could be revealed. They cannot, as that information is protected by Data Protection legislation. But that fact aside, the minister’s logic would imply that the identities of people voting in a secret postal ballot could just as easily be revealed. The fact is that the union member can only reveal information, as it is their data. It is not for the government to claim to defend the identity of union members, who have the option to do so.

18. As for the Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy [10] the Speaker said: "I set up the Digital Democracy Commission to explore how Parliament could make better use of digital technology to enhance and improve its work." It has nothing to do with union ballots. It is actually about encouraging engagement with Parliament generally. Its key recommendation 4 is that: {By 2020} secure online voting should be available for all voters.

Concluding remarks

We have referred to our submissions to the BIS consultations and provided links to those. We stand by those, subject to the developments in the evidence and conclusions from this document, including that:

· reference to "Important public services" in relation to ballot thresholds is arbitrary and too wide by reference to international law

· "support staff in ancillary roles" is confusing, unworkable and extremely wide

· requirements to opt in to political funds is partisan (mention concern around electoral role)

· proposals on picketing are unnecessary and provocative

· a state encouraged blacklist is abhorrent (Unite currently is pursuing legal action on behalf of nearly 300 blacklisted members)

· the new role for the Certification Officer imposes excessive interference and cost.

In the Unite response to BIS in relation to picketing we referred to the need for alternative, more progressive reforms to help working people, society and the economy [11] . We believe that our evidence here demonstrates that the time for workplace ballots is here.

     

October 2015

Appendix 1

Analysis of CAC Combination & Workplace Ballots

Background    

Between 2000 and 2014 there were 862 applications for trade union recognition, of these 209 went to a ballot of the workforce. There were 63 CAC Ballots that were conducted at the workplace (including Combination Ballots)

Return Rates at Workplaces with 50 or more workers  

· All workplaces with bargaining units of more than 50 workers in both forms of ballot recorded a Return rate of more than 52%.

· The GPMU & Ritrama UK Limited ballot of 53 workers was the only ballot at the workplace to record a 100% return rate.

· The mean average return rate in Workplace Ballots (including Combination Ballots) was 88%.

Table 1: Workplace Ballots (including Combination) with more than 50 Workers with a Return Rate of more than 85%  

· 93.75 % of relevant Workplace Ballots (including Combination) had a return rate of more than 90%.

· The mean average number of workers that could vote in relevant Workplace Ballots (including Combination) was 214.

· All relevant Workplace Ballots (including Combination) had a return rate of over 87%.

Case

Date

Workers Eligible to Vote

Ballot Papers Returned

% Return Rate

ISTC & Mission Foods

24-Nov-03

168

151

90%

GMB & Bisley Office Equipment

29-May-07

454

410

90%

TGWU & Porvair Technology

19-Nov-03

70

64

91%

ISTC & Brian Hewitt Construction Ltd

04-Feb-04

92

84

91%

Unite the Union & London and North Western Railway Co. Ltd

12-Jun-09

99

90

91%

AMICUS & South Marston Distribution Centre Limited

22-Sep-04

411

375

91%

TGWU & Cytec Engineered Materials Ltd.

03-Oct-02

51

47

92%

AMICUS & Teconnex Limited

20-Apr-04

90

83

92%

The Amalgamated Union (formerly known as T&GWU) & Harrods

08-May-07

150

139

93%

Unite the Union & Tuilp (Coalville) Ltd

06-Feb-09

154

143

93%

GMB & Bisley Office Furniture

05-Dec-03

457

424

93%

GMB & Nuaire Limited

19-Jun-13

207

196

94%

AMICUS & GE Thermometrics (UK) Limited

30-Jul-04

102

97

95%

RMT & JW Filshill Ltd

27-Jul-15

111

105

95%

Unite the Union & Gillette UK Ltd

17-Jul-09

138

131

95%

GMB & Gleason Works Ltd

11-Feb-05

246

235

95%

Unite the Union & Kettle Foods Ltd

11-Oct-07

318

301

95%

AMICUS & GE Caledonian Limited

28-May-02

730

694

95%

ISTC & Hanmere Polythene Ltd

11-Dec-03

70

67

96%

AMICUS & X-FAB UK Limited

02-Nov-06

173

167

96%

TGWU & Nacam UK Ltd

09-Jul-02

161

157

97%

AMICUS & Baker Oil Tools

13-Oct-05

186

181

97%

GMB & Caunton Engineering

21-Mar-05

60

59

98%

Unite the Union & Johnson Security Limited

20-Sep-10

69

67

98%

CATU & Industrial Agricultural Engineers

05-Nov-04

112

110

98%

Unite the Union & GE Caledonian Limited

01-Jun-12

752

736

98%

AEEU & Honeywell Garrett Engine Boosting Systems

12-Oct-01

90

89

99%

TGWU & International Radiators *

30-Jan-03

102

89

87%

RMT & Epsom Coaches*

23-Oct-14

277

244

88%

AEEU & Huntleigh Healthcare Limited*

17-May-01

172

157

91%

BFAWU & Seabrook Potato Crisps Ltd*

23-Nov-01

239

218

91%

GMB & Magna Kansei Ltd*

27-Mar-06

353

333

95%

*Workplace Only Ballots

Table 2: Workplace Ballots (including Combination) With 50 or More Workers in Order of Return Rate 

Case

Date

Workers Eligible to Vote

Ballot Papers Returned

% Return Rate

GPMU & DSR Ltd

26-Apr-02

69

36

52%

TGWU & REST ASSURED LIMITED

17-Oct-02

212

130

61%

TGWU & Armchair Passenger Transport Co Ltd.

13-Feb-04

260

173

66%

TGWU & NIC HYGIENE SPECIALISTS

12-Feb-03

50

34

68%

Unite the Union & National Car Parks Limited

10-Mar-09

60

43

71%

Unite the Union & Sports Direct International PLC

05-Sep-08

486

358

74%

GMB & ASDA

25-Aug-04

575

435

75%

GMB & The Video Duplicating Company Ltd

26-Mar-03

170

129

76%

TGWU & Hozelock Limited

17-Aug-01

266

201

76%

TGWU & Riverstone Spinning Ltd

28-Feb-02

196

153

78%

AEEU & Honda of the UK Manufacturing Limited

10-Dec-01

4045

3140

78%

ISTC & Cornelius Electronics Ltd

13-Sep-02

131

103

79%

TGWU & KING ASIA FOODS LTD

03-May-02

154

125

81%

GMB & Madame Tussauds

07-Apr-04

139

115

83%

TGWU & Comet Group plc

14-Aug-06

55

47

85%

GMB & Washington Metal Works

15-Jul-15

155

132

85%

Unite the Union & Cranberry Foods Ltd

15-Sep-10

289

245

85%

TGWU & DuBois Limited

21-Feb-03

140

120

86%

GMB & Dart Products LTd

06-Sep-06

137

121

88%

TGWU & Plane Handling Limited

02-May-03

586

517

88%

TGWU & TVR Engineering Ltd

22-Feb-05

272

242

89%

GMB & Walkers Snack Foods Ltd

13-Dec-10

353

315

89%

Unite the Union & Walkers Snack Foods Ltd

14-Aug-13

490

438

89%

ISTC & Mission Foods

24-Nov-03

168

151

90%

GMB & Bisley Office Equipment

29-May-07

454

410

90%

TGWU & Porvair Technology

19-Nov-03

70

64

91%

ISTC & Brian Hewitt Construction Ltd

04-Feb-04

92

84

91%

Unite the Union & London and North Western Railway Co. Ltd

12-Jun-09

99

90

91%

AMICUS & South Marston Distribution Centre Limited

22-Sep-04

411

375

91%

TGWU & Cytec Engineered Materials Ltd.

03-Oct-02

51

47

92%

AMICUS & Teconnex Limited

20-Apr-04

90

83

92%

The Amalgamated Union (formerly known as T&GWU) & Harrods

08-May-07

150

139

93%

Unite the Union & Tuilp (Coalville) Ltd

06-Feb-09

154

143

93%

GMB & Bisley Office Furniture

05-Dec-03

457

424

93%

GMB & Nuaire Limited

19-Jun-13

207

196

94%

AMICUS & GE Thermometrics (UK) Limited

30-Jul-04

102

97

95%

RMT & JW Filshill Ltd

27-Jul-15

111

105

95%

Unite the Union & Gillette UK Ltd

17-Jul-09

138

131

95%

GMB & Gleason Works Ltd

11-Feb-05

246

235

95%

Unite the Union & Kettle Foods Ltd

11-Oct-07

318

301

95%

AMICUS & GE Caledonian Limited

28-May-02

730

694

95%

ISTC & Hanmere Polythene Ltd

11-Dec-03

70

67

96%

AMICUS & X-FAB UK Limited

02-Nov-06

173

167

96%

TGWU & Nacam UK Ltd

09-Jul-02

161

157

97%

AMICUS & Baker Oil Tools

13-Oct-05

186

181

97%

GMB & Caunton Engineering

21-Mar-05

60

59

98%

Unite the Union & Johnson Security Limited

20-Sep-10

69

67

98%

CATU & Industrial Agricultural Engineers

05-Nov-04

112

110

98%

Unite the Union & GE Caledonian Limited

01-Jun-12

752

736

98%

AEEU & Honeywell Garrett Engine Boosting Systems

12-Oct-01

90

89

99%

GPMU & Ritrama UK Limited

10-Oct-02

53

53

100%

TGWU & International Radiators *

30-Jan-03

102

89

87%

RMT & Epsom Coaches*

23-Oct-14

277

244

88%

AEEU & Huntleigh Healthcare Limited*

17-May-01

172

157

91%

BFAWU & Seabrook Potato Crisps Ltd*

23-Nov-01

239

218

91%

GMB & Magna Kansei Ltd*

27-Mar-06

353

333

95%

*Workplace Only Ballots

Appendix 2

On "Intimidation of non-striking workers"

https://apps.groupdocs.com/document-viewer/Embed/6f1952a7227da11ecb09b8ad43c44e6d2f5398a4a0d1e318ea4c3a85e97e1112?quality=50&use_pdf=False&download=False&print=False&signature=Lgmnv9CWt09XjzjybRZCSYQApnY

On Ballot thresholds in important public services

https://apps.groupdocs.com/document-viewer/Embed/0bfde45849582920365f0ddbb4eab556a3ffb9a0165e64cde1a6f0e1ee5b2070?quality=50&use_pdf=False&download=True&print=False&signature=6omSUkJiA4XSu%2Btnls2ScvIxHKQ


[1] Here is the response to the BIS consultation on hiring agency workers to break strikes submitted on 9 September 2015 (inks to the other 2 responses are in Appendix 2 below): https://apps.groupdocs.com/document-viewer/Embed/9649e0dafaefdb0b6aacbc16b4b7cd545b0341b8ba346c44fc74c9381dab32b9?quality=50&use_pdf=False&download=False&print=False&signature=m8a%2BbZBLzCsWlZa8HMrXibUhhiw

[2] Unite has seen the evidence to the Committee from Thompsons Solicitors on the legal issues and endorses that, in references the union has made in the responses to the BIS consultations.

[3] A workplace ballot with the option of, for example, an email and/or postal vote for those who might be away on the day of the ballot, or who might prefer to vote away from the workplace.

[4] http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140701192834/http://www.cac.gov.uk/media/pdf/j/2/Final_CAC_Annual_Report_07-08.pdf

[5] http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20140701192834/http://www.cac.gov.uk/media/pdf/0/n/Final_CAC_2009_Annual_Report.pdf

[6] See for example the latest report here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/446943/CAC_Annual_Report_2015.pdf

[6]

[7] http://www.electoralreform.co.uk/company-overview

[8] It is hypocrisy to refer to concern that "the identities of people voting in a secret ballot may be revealed" and at the same time introduce laws requiring trade unionists to wear arm bands, especially coupled with the very real problem of blacklisting.

[9] Both the ILO and the Council of Europe have condemned the ease with which the courts here grant interim injunctions to employers.

[10] The Speaker’s Commission on Digital Democracy is here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/commons/the-speaker/speakers-commission-on-digital-democracy/

[10]

[11] See for example, this IMF research paper http://www.newunionism.net/library/internationalism/World%20Bank%20-%20Unions%20and%20Collective%20Bargaining%20-%20Economic%20Effects%20-%202002.pdf

Prepared 14th October 2015