Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by the RMT (TUB 29)

Introduction

RMT supports the TUC’s submission to the Committee. However, we wish to take this opportunity to highlight some of the particular difficulties regarding the impact of the proposed Bill on the transport industry, specifically rail.

Summary

· Both the GLA (2011) and an independent review (2011 - carried out on behalf of RMT and London Underground) both emphasised the need for the employer to create the conditions for dialogue to improve industrial relations. The Trade Union Bill and further restrictions on trade unions will only damage industrial relations.

· RMT believes that the reestablishment of the London Transport Wages Board and the London Underground Consultative Committee would be positive steps towards stabilising industrial relations on the Tube.

· Boris Johnson would not have been elected or re-elected mayor under his ballot threshold requirements.

· Boris Johnson, in contrast to his predecessor, has not once met an RMT General Secretary or other national official, to discuss industrial relations on the London Underground.

· The restrictions on picketing in the Trade Union Bill place an unfair burden almost impossible to carry on the trade union movement. This will further damage industrial relations. This also places a similarly massive and unnecessary burden on the police.

· Independent polling has shown that 65% of the tube users support the right of tube workers to engage in lawful industrial action ( Survation , Feb 2014).

Industrial Relations on the Tube

The key recommendation of the Greater London Assembly report State of the Underground published in September 2011 was as follows:

 

Recommendation 1

In light of the impact of strikes on London Underground’s service in 2010/11 and the risks to the 2012 Games, we recommend that the Mayor review his and TfL’s approach to industrial relations. Specifically, he should consider whether additional meetings with unions or other new structures might help improve relations.

 

 

RMT has consistently called for mechanisms for dialogue to prevent disputes, through positive engagement between London Underground management and RMT. For example, the Wages Board.

 

Wages Board

The Wages Board was abolished when the 2000 Machinery of Negotiation was brought into force. Before that time parties could refer issues to the Wages Board on a binding or non-binding basis. Over the years a series of issues were considered by the Board.

 

In relation to the 1997 referral on the length of the working week the Board said "The Board believes that a failure by LT/LUL to address the internal anomalies in the length of the working week will cause industrial relations problems in the future. It recommends therefore, that a Joint Working Party be set up within three months of the date of the Wages Board to start addressing a phased movement towards shorter hours". As RMT pointed out in our written evidence to the Committee no such progress was made for LUL station staff for over seven years.

 

We believe that the abolition of the Wages Board, which the RMT was against the time, removed a valuable mechanism which could help to resolve differences between the trades unions and management before industrial action took place.

 

 

An independent review of industrial relations on the tube (with was facilitated by RMT and London Underground) was carried out by Professor John Goodman and was published in October 2011. The review again recommended increased dialogue between unions and management including "the creation of a standing mediation/arbitration body for collective disputes arising in London Underground. For many years this existed in London Transport more broadly. The advantage of a standing board with an independent chair and two other members drawn from senior people with considerable representative experience on each side, is that it will have or quickly acquire (e.g. by an in-depth induction programme) a specific understanding of the intricacies and operation of the Underground." Furthermore, it noted the absence of any "active forum for consultation with the trade unions at LU level to discuss strategic and other issues, though there appears to be provision in the agreements for a number of such bodies which are not active. I recommend that LU considers this situation, and makes proposals to the trade unions. No recommendation is made on matters of detail, e.g. whether the scope of the Company Council should be extended or separate machinery be revived or created. An annual exchange of forward views with the trade unions would be another possibility."

 

Progress has not been made on the recommendations of either the GLA through their State of the Tube report, or the Independent Review of Industrial Relations.

 

RMT believes that the provisions of the Trade Union Bill move in the opposite direction of travel to these recommendations, and that the Trade Union Bill was considerably damage industrial relations on the tube.

 

Boris Johnson & the Ballot Threshold

On the subject of a 50 per cent threshold, it's worth noting one inconvenient truth for the Mayor: he wouldn't have been elected (or re-elected) under his own rule. In 2008, turnout in the London mayoral election was 45 per cent, before falling tom 38 per cent in 2012.

 

Picketing & the Trade Union Bill

All rail unions were involved in a recent dispute on London Underground. There are 270 separate stations on the Underground and dozens of train depots, permanent way depots, signal boxes, offices and other workplaces in addition. RMT, for example, balloted London Underground members across 445 workplace locations. Theoretically, a picket could be maintained at each workplace location, though the unions did not do so, though they did picket all or nearly all London Underground Stations, several of which have several separate entrances. The likelihood of picketing all entrances to all worksites will be increased by the proposed threat of agency workers being hired during strike action.

If the Bill is enacted each union must appoint a picket supervisor and provide him/her with a letter of authority and an armband. It is presumed that the letter of authority must be personally addressed to the supervisor rather than conferring authority on any member in possession of it. In most unions only the General Secretary has authority to sign correspondence. The task of identifying picket organisers and supplying each with a letter of authority would be duplicated in each (there is no provision in the Bill for the sharing between unions of a picket supervisor). Thus in the London Underground dispute each union would have identify in advance hundreds of supervisors and send out hundreds of letters (and armbands). Any failure in this operation would render the picket at the relevant place unlawful for that union.

Provisions not yet in the Bill will require that 14 days before industrial action starts, unions must inform employer, the police and the Certification Officer any plans for picketing including when and where any protests or pickets will take place (in this example up to 445 London Underground workplace locations with any protests in addition), how many people will participate in each of those, whether there will be loudspeakers, props, banners etc and whether the union will be using social media (specifically Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites) and what those blogs and websites will set out. The information must confirm that the union has informed members of the relevant laws. The union must also outline whether other unions are involved and the steps to liaise with those unions. This may be problematic where common ground over all of the issues involved has not been reached between what may be rival trade unions. These requirements will place an impossible burden on unions.

The number of pickets at a place are limited to six by the Code of Practice on Picketing. It is not the practice of the police to tolerate at a picket, six from each union involved. At any place of picketing therefore, the six would be composed, in the circumstances of this dispute involving four unions, of four picket supervisors - two of whom would have one member to supervise, and two of whom would be supervising only themselves. Though unions will be permitted to organise a picket jointly and rely on one union to appoint a picket supervisor, there will be reluctance to do so. This is because any failure on the part of the appointing union to select a supervisor with relevant knowledge, an adequate letter of authority and an armband, or to ensure that the supervisor knows of his/her appointment and remains readily contactable by the police and in sufficient proximity will render the picket unlawful and the non-appointing unions (and their picketing members) liable.

The unions are also very unhappy that the identity of each supervisor must be disclosed to the police and to the employer (whose representative will inevitably be a person ‘who reasonably asks to see’ the letter of authority). There is an understandable fear of recriminations. Furthermore, the fact that the authorisation letter must also be shown to ‘any other person who reasonably asks to see it’ may mean a potentially massive number of requests from members of the public and employers challenging the authenticity of the letter. This potential for this is very significant when dealing with the travelling public due to the vast numbers adversely affected by industrial action (on its busiest day in 2014, 4.5 million journeys were taken on the London Underground - an average of over 10,000 per workplace location).

This also places a similarly massive and unnecessary burden on the police.

National Rail

RMT also recently balloted its Network Rail membership for industrial action across some 1130 workplace locations, where the examples of negative burdens for both trade unions and the police outlined above would be multiplied.

In terms of rail franchises, it is worth noting that the number of workplace locations are still very substantial. For example, Northern Rail manages 463 stations, First Great Western manages 208 stations, Arriva Trains Wales manages 244 stations and the new Thameslink, Great Northern and Southern Franchise sees the Thameslink & Northern business unit manage 239 stations and Southern business unit manage a further 158 stations.

It is important to note that there may be more than one workplace location in each station and that these figures do not include other workplace locations such as depots.

Seafaring

An additional example is the ballot recently conducted on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries in Scotland where workers based out of 11 different terminals were balloted. It is important to note that many of these workplaces are in geographically remote locations, where police may not be immediately available to fulfil the new onerous requirements proposed in the Bill.

October 2015

Prepared 20th October 2015