Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by the British Medical Association (BMA) (TUB 26)

1. The British Medical Association (BMA) is an apolitical professional association and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of patient care. We have a membership of over 154,000, which continues to grow each year.

2. The BMA does not have a political fund and is not affiliated to any political party or to the Trades Union Congress.

3. The BMA welcomes the opportunity to make written and oral submissions to the Public Bill Committee.

Executive summary

4. The BMA believes that the Trade Union Bill risks diminishing not only the important role trade unions play in the work place, but also their legitimate right and need to represent their members’ interests. The imposition of tighter restrictions on trade unions may have the inadvertent effect of prolonging workplace disputes, thereby making it more difficult to resolve disputes amicably.

5. The Bill undermines workers’ rights to representation and their right to express an opinion through industrial action which is taken as a last resort. The BMA would always prefer to negotiate for a solution that is fair to both employees and employers.

6. Industrial action by trade unions, particularly in the health sector, is at historically low levels.

7. The introduction of ballot thresholds particularly (Clauses 2 and 3) are arbitrary, unnecessary and place punitive restrictions on workers employed in specified public services. Despite the Government’s claim that these measures are ‘not an attempt to ban industrial action’, the purpose of the ‘double threshold’ appears simply to be to make it more difficult for unions to organise industrial action. [1] Clauses 2 and 3 should be removed from the Bill.

8. New powers for the Certification Officer threaten to intrude into union activities and affairs and presents a potential invasion of trade union members’ rights to privacy.

9. The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills has stated that ‘this Bill is not a declaration of war on the trade union movement’. [2] However, this Bill, alongside the measures introduced by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, appears to be another ideological attempt by the Government to curtail the legitimate activities of trade unions.

The BMA’s concerns

Ballots: 50% turnout requirement (Clause 2) and 40% support requirement in important public services (Clause 3)

10. Clause 2 of the Trade Union Bill seeks to amend the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULRCA) by introducing a requirement for a minimum threshold of a 50% turnout in all industrial action ballots. Clause 3 introduces an additional higher level of support of 40% of the eligible membership in favour of industrial action for specified important public services, including health, for any subsequent action taken to be legal. Therefore, if a union achieved a 50% response rate to its ballot, then 80% (40% of the entire eligible membership) of those respondents would need to vote in favour of strike action for it to be legal.

11. The BMA believes that the ballot threshold levels introduced under this Bill are arbitrary, unnecessary and inappropriate. We have seen no evidence as to why an additional 40% threshold in ‘important public services’ has been chosen; the purpose of this double threshold appears only to be to make it more difficult for unions to organise industrial action.

12. Trade unions must already gain a vote of support of 40% of its members under the rulings of TULRCA in order for its representation as a bargaining unit to be recognised and legitimise the union’s right to represent them. The BMA believes that introducing such a threshold for each individual instance of industrial action is unnecessary and undermines workers’ fundamental right to strike.

13. The BMA believes the ballot thresholds proposed in the Bill are arbitrary and unnecessarily stringent: the BMA calls on the Government to remove Clauses 2 and 3 from the Bill.

New powers for the Certification Officer (Clause 6, Clause 14, Schedule 1, Clause 16, Schedule 3, Clause 17)

14. The Trade Union Bill introduces a range of new requirements and powers for the Certification Officer and for the Certification Office. Clause 6 requires a trade union to provide a whole range of further information to the Certification Officer in its annual return. Clause 14 grants the Certification Officer new investigatory and enforcement powers: the Certification Officer will be able to initiate investigations or act on intelligence received by any third party, such as an employer or a member of the public.

15. Clause 14, Schedule 1 inserts a new Schedule A3 into TULRCA. Paragraphs 3 and 5 of the new Schedule outline circumstances where disclosures of a member’s name or address will be permitted and proposals for enforcement orders, which will place requirements on a union or person to produce documents, supply information or to co-operate with inspectors.

16. The Government has claimed that the ‘certification officer’s role remains that of a neutral regulator, independent of Government’ [3] and yet the BMA is deeply concerned by this development. Not only is this an intrusion into union activities and affairs, these new powers present a potential invasion of trade union members’ rights to privacy. In addition to the administrative and bureaucratic burden this will place on trade unions, the BMA is also questioning why this data is being collected at all by the Certification Officer.

17. Clause 17 grants the Government a new power to levy a charge on trade unions to cover the costs of the Certification Officer. The BMA is concerned that this will impose significant new costs on trade unions to cover the running costs of the certification officer and the extensive new powers that the Certification Officer will be granted. The BMA notes that the Government is consulting at what level the levy should be set but would insist that any costs are proportionate.

Restrictions on paid time off for trade union activities (Clause 12 and 13)

18. Clause 12 inserts a new section 172A into TULRCA which gives the Government the power to require all public sector employers to publish data on activities undertaken by trade union officials. This could include: information on paid time off for union officials; how many employees are trade union officials; and information about employers’ spending on trade union duties and activities. Clause 13 also gives the Government the power to impose a cap on the proportion of working time spent by a public sector worker on trade union activities.

19. While it has been suggested that this new provision is designed to ‘promote transparency and public scrutiny of facility time, and to encourage those employers to moderate the amount of money spent on facility time in light of that scrutiny’ [4] , the BMA is deeply concerned that could be used by the Government to restrict the ability of unions to represent their members on a range of issues, such as resolving workplace disputes, collective bargaining and improving workplace practices.

20. The BMA notes amendment 46, which would limit the information which the Secretary of State can require public sector employers to the number of employees who are union officials and the costs of paying them for facility time. The BMA has repeatedly questioned why the Government is seeking to collect this data and is concerned that this is another unnecessary and unfair intrusion into the activities of trade unions that are legitimately representing the rights of their members.

21. The BMA notes amendment 50, which would change the regulation making power for clause 12 from the negative to the affirmative procedure. The BMA believes it is essential that any new measures, which will give the Government the power to require all public sector employers to publish data on activities undertaken by trade union officials, undergo thorough scrutiny and require approval by both Houses of Parliament before coming into force.

October 2015


[1] The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Sajid Javid), Trade Union Bill, Second Reading, 14th September 2015: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm150914/debtext/150914-0001.htm#1509146000001

[2] The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Sajid Javid), Trade Union Bill, Second Reading, 14th September 2015: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm150914/debtext/150914-0001.htm#1509146000001

[3] The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Sajid Javid), Trade Union Bill, Second Reading, 14th September 2015: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmhansrd/cm150914/debtext/150914-0001.htm#1509146000001

[4] Trade Union Bill, Explanatory notes, page 9, point 54: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/2015-2016/0058/en/16058en05.htm

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Prepared 14th October 2015