Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians (UCATT) (TUB 12)

Introduction

1. UCATT is the largest specialist union for construction workers in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, with members both in the public and private sectors. UCATT is the lead union among the signatories to the National Working Rule Agreement of the Construction Industry Joint Council and the Joint Negotiating Committee for Local Authority Craft and Associated Employees. UCATT is represented on a number of construction industry related bodies by the General Secretary including the Strategic Forum for Construction, the Construction Industry Training Board and the Construction Skills Certification Scheme.

2. UCATT welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Public Bill Committee and does so in the expectation that intense scrutiny of the Bill will show it to be a vindictive, barbaric attack by an ideologically motivated Tory leadership intent on preventing any legitimate defence of workers’ rights across the UK by the trade union and labour movement. Should this Bill be passed we will oppose it by any political and industrial means necessary.

3. UCATT is deeply angered by the attack on the human right to strike being pursued by the government’s proposals outlined in the Trade Union Bill and regulations attached. These include thresholds for industrial action ballots – the like of which is seen in no other democratised society – the need for a "40%" of those eligible, YES vote in some public services, 14 day notice for industrial action, and obligation to re-ballot members and a removal of the ban on agency staff to replace striking workers.

4. UCATT believes these proposed new laws are vindictive and barbaric, unjustified, and undermine the UK government’s human rights obligations. It is our view that the Bill and the Regulations contained therein are more about dismantling any power that a worker has in the workplace. In effect the Bill will make employers all powerful and seriously imbalance workplace relations. The Government is apparently trying to prevent workers from having recourse to the use of trade unions to protect their interests in the workplace, and to protect the quality of public services that the country relies upon.

Key concerns about the thresholds

5. Millions of working people, midwives, teachers, hospital staff, and railway workers will be prevented from collectively organising to protect their interests in the workplace. The impact of these thresholds will seriously undermine industrial action ballots. UCATT is concerned that the imposition of the draconian thresholds is not consistent with international law on the rights of individuals.

6. Despite maintaining that this is about increasing workplace democracy, the Government has consistently opposed any form of electronic voting or secure workplace balloting in union elections and ballots. Allowing this form of voting would increase the democratic participation of workers in the democracy of the union, and UCATT believes that the government is fully aware of this yet opposes this for ideological reasons.

7. It can also be argued that the proposed laws are selective and are discriminatory in that they penalise public sector workers, by making it more difficult for these workers to exert their human right to withdraw their labour through a trade union industrial action ballot than other workers. These excessive ballot thresholds therefore disproportionately affect these workers and also a high number of female workers who work in key public sector jobs.

8. The right to strike is a fundamental right enshrined in International Law. The UK Government is attempting to undermine these laws and launch an all-out attack on the trade union movement by placing greater restrictions on unions than any other voluntary sector or membership organisations in the UK.

Picketing

9. It is quite incredible that the Government is looking to bring in more restrictions on picketing by trade unions, without any semblance of evidence that there is any case to do so. The Regulatory Performance Committee review found that "there is little evidence presented that there will be any significant benefits arising from this proposal". What this is really about is attacking the rights of workers and their trade unions to hold legitimate industrial action following the decision of workers through a ballot. The basic right to freedom of assembly and expression are being attacked. The consultation is totally one sided, there is nothing mentioned about any need to protect those workers that take strike action from intimidation by employers or other persons.

10. What about the rights of many construction workers employed through bogus self-employed schemes, umbrella companies, and zero-hour contracts? Is it not important that the Government legislates so that these workers can take industrial action in the same way as employees? UCATT represents thousands of these workers, and our day to day experience is of an industry perpetuated by a culture of fear, with workers unable to stand up for their rights as the law is stacked against them, and the reality is that they will struggle to get any works if they do so. The recent blacklisting scandal shone a light on the dark arts of construction employers. UCATT calls on the government to protect striking workers by

11. Preventing the dismissal of workers engaged in strike action after the 12 week period by implementing a new framework of rights for workers that have taken part in legitimate action

12. Making it automatically unfair to dismiss a worker that returns to work following a period of industrial action

Hiring of Agency Workers to break strikes

13. UCATT would point out that should employers decide to undermine legitimate strike action by bringing in strike breaking labour agencies it will only serve to heighten a dispute and ultimately make it more difficult to achieve a negotiated settlement. Trade union members’ may harden their position if hirers engage agency workers.

14. All employers will need to be aware of any new regulations, therefore the position put forward in the impact assessment of the TU Bill that only 128 employers, those that have experienced strike action between 2010-14, need to familiarise themselves with changes is nonsense. Every hirer will need to be aware of any changes.

15. Hirers will find agencies placing inflated costs on labour, additional managers may be needed to supervise untrained workers. In addition the use of such workers may undermine the quality of the service provided by a hirer and impact on the effectiveness of the company. Many employers will, unlike this Government, recognise the problems associated with bringing in these workers. Many employers that have positive relationships with trade unions understand that their staff are the key to success and will reject this type of action, and work with trade unions to mitigate any industrial relation problems. It appears from each element of the proposed Trade Union Bill that it is the preserve of an ideological Government to stoke up attacks on trade unions and their members’.

Removal of Check-Off Facilities

16. UCATT is appalled that the Government is seeking to amend the Bill to further include the removal of check-off facilities across public sector workplaces. If check-off facilities are withdrawn across the public sector this will give the green light to anti trade union employers across wider related sectors, and private companies, to withdraw from existing check-off arrangements.

17. UCATT believes that check-off is an important and well established trade union right, and notes that withdrawing check-off has been used by right-wing regimes as an attempt to undermine trade union membership and income.

Clause 10 and Clause 11 - To restrict the Political activity of the Trade Union Movement

18. Trade Unions in the UK already have the most onerous restrictions on their actions through the current regulations that govern their actions. Trade Unions must have a ballot to set up a political fund, and a membership ballot every ten years to maintain a political fund. Trade Unions already have a burdensome amount of reporting on their political activity which includes Representation of the Peoples Act 1983, TULR (Consolidated) Act 1992, the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act 2000, and the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014. The Government proposals in this Bill to create an opt-in to the political fund, with a small transition period of three months, then every 5 years thereafter, is overly restrictive and UCATT would argue interferes with both Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (in law in UK as Human Rights Act) which protects the freedom of assembly and trade unions necessary in a democratic society. In addition Article 5 of the European Social Charter is also relevant as it identifies that National Law should not be used to undermine the freedom of the right of workers to protect their economic and social interests.

19. Not only is there a major question about the potential government influence over the internal affairs over the autonomy of a trade union, but this is an overt is an attack on the historical link between trade unions and the Labour Party. The Labour Party was formed with the support of Trade Unionists in order that workers could be represented and have a voice in Parliament. This has been recognised by all administrations for more than 70 years including Conservative led Governments opposed to the aims of the Labour movement. If passed this will undermine the engagement of trade unions in political engagement, seek to neuter financial support for the Labour Party and see declining political involvement of many across the workplaces of the UK.

October 2015

Prepared 14th October 2015