Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria

I wish to make the following submission as part of the Public Bill Committee consultation for the Trade Union Bill in relation to the following three areas:

 

(A)     Ballot thresholds in important public services.

(B)     Hiring agency staff during strike action: reforming regulation.

(C)    Tackling intimidation of non-striking workers.

 

Whist there are many important issues raised in (A) and (B), as Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, I wish to submit comments on section (C) and the impact on policing. 

 

The proposals in the Bill would result in police officers having to spend more time on issues that should be between trade unions and their members.  Trade Unions have a reputation of professionalism, realism and the measures represent a serious and unjustified attack on the civil liberties of trade unions and their member.  As the TUC rightly state, it is not legitimate for government to restrict the human rights of UK citizens on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations and it is not the role of the police to deal oversee the democratic rights of Trade Unions.

 

The law as it currently stands is regulated to govern picketing or protests by trade unions and their members, this includes public order, highways protections from harassment and criminal damage.  There is no reason for the government to consider introducing a criminal offence of intimidatory activities on a picket line when such an offence already exists in Section 241 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation Act) 1992.  By introducing additional criminal offences, police resources will be further stretched.  As Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, I want police officers to be protecting our communities and dealing with the issues that local residents have stated they want to see addressed through the Police & Crime Plan.

 

Since 2010, the Government has reduced the grant to Northumbria by nearly £120 million - this has resulted in a reduction of 16% in the number of police officers on the beat and 25% of specialist civilian staff roles have been deleted.  To create further Trade Union bureaucracy would involve police officers and staff being taken away from front line policing.

 

Question 5 relates to views on the proposals to require unions to publish their plans.  According to the consultation documents, unions will be required to provide copies of the picket and protest plans to the employers, the police and the certification officer.  If it was to be mandatory for the police to receive this information, it would result in extra time being taken up to collate, review and respond to the plans.  This work would be fruitless as most occasions see trade union protest as being peaceful - yet police would have to be involved in the process.  This is all based on assumptions as the government has not explained why unions should be required to report on their intended use of social media during the course of a dispute and what exactly the police are expected to do with the information.

 

It is not the role of the police to monitor the campaign activities of trade unions on social media.  However, if a defamatory comment has been posted and it has been reported to the police, I would then expect the police to take action.

 

By involving the police in such activities, it will create significant costs and administrative burdens for police forces.

 

In conclusion, I want local police officers out on the streets of Northumbria doing what they do best - protecting and supporting our communities, not arresting someone because unions haven’t given two weeks’ notice if they intend to use a loudspeaker or carry a banner during a strike.  The world of Twitter, Facebook and blogs is to allow people to express their opinions freely - not to have them monitored by the police.

 

October 2015 

Prepared 14th October 2015