Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) (TUB 33)

TRADE UNION BILL

Introduction

1. The purpose of this memorandum is to provide a commentary from the National Union of Teachers on the Trade Union Bill. The NUT is the largest teachers’ union and has over 330,000 members.

2. The NUT considers the Bill to be an unprecedented attack on trade unions and the rights of working people. The Bill threatens civil liberties and would tie unions up in regulation.

3. This submission sets out the key proposals of importance to the Union and provides a commentary on particular amendments that have been tabled.

Ballot thresholds for industrial action (CLAUSES 2 – 3)

4. By imposing thresholds for ballot returns, treating an abstention as a ‘no’ vote, and requiring even higher thresholds for teachers and some other public sector workers voting on industrial action, the Government is seeking to undermine the right of working people to take industrial action.

5. The right to strike is protected by a number of international and European provisions, including ILO Convention 87 (which was ratified by the UK in 1949), the European Social Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights. The ILO Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention 151 also provides that public servants must enjoy the same political and civil rights as other employees. The NUT would argue that any interference with this right must be fully justified and that the Government has failed, as yet, to provide any such justification.

6. The Bill states that in education the 40% ‘yes vote’ requirement will apply to education services for those aged under 17 and be limited to state-funded schools.

7. Naturally the NUT considers that education is an ‘important public service’; it considers it a vital public service for the benefit of children and young people and the long term benefit and happiness of our country. The Union does not, however, accept that education should come within any restrictions as proposed.

8. The UK’s international obligations require that teachers as with other employees must be able to exercise their democratic right to take industrial action. The requirement of the 40% threshold restricts this as will the requirement for 50% turnout. Decisions of the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO recognise that there may be a limitation to the right to strike in ‘essential’ public services, but this is only where an interruption due to strike action "could endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or a part of the population".

9. In relation to education there are no considerations of risk of life or serious injury caused by interruption to the school timetable when teachers make the difficult decision to go on strike.

10. Indeed the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association has determined on a number of occasions that teaching does not fall within the definition of essential public services for these purposes. Furthermore, ILO instruments require that those limited circumstances in which strike action is restricted, there must be compensatory guarantees of adequate protection to the workers in those sectors. There has been no such suggestion from Ministers, that adequate compensatory guarantees will be provided. Therefore, the impact of these provisions will deny teachers the same rights as other workers.

11. Introducing ballot thresholds as a statutory requirement will affect freedom of association. Unions will no longer be able to take decisions within their own democratic structures and will instead have to comply with state imposed thresholds.

12. If the Government was serious about boosting turnout in industrial action ballots they would support New Clause 1 which would enable unions to use electronic voting for statutory ballots and elections.

Picketing (Clause 9)

13. Currently, the law protects the right for trade union members to engage in peaceful picketing at the entrance to their workplaces. Trade unions already have to comply with the provisions that are set out in the statutory Code of Practice on picketing, which places detailed and significant requirements on unions including limiting the number of people on a picket line to six.

14. In an effort to tie unions in red tape and increase costs, Clause 9 of the Bill would force unions to report their picketing arrangements to the police, including time, location, number of picketers and even the use of banners and loud speakers.

15. In addition, under the proposals unions would need to publish information about any social media messages they will be posting on the day. A designated ‘picket supervisor’ would have to be present at all times with a letter of union authorisation. If unions do not follow these rules they could receive fines of up to £20,000.

16. The NUT believes that the Government’s proposals are unjust, unnecessary, and will undermine the legitimate right of trade union members to freely associate and assemble. The Government has been unable to cite any evidence of widespread intimidation by striking workers. It is noted that their consultation document and impact assessment on this issue referred to certain incidents but lacked any detail as to whether these incidents are widespread.

17. What is even more surprising is that the Government is relying on ‘evidence’ from the Carr Report to justify these changes. This is despite the fact that Mr. Bruce Carr QC explicitly stated in his report that he did not have enough evidence to make any findings or recommendations to change the current legal framework. The Government’s own impact assessment states that evidence of any breaches of the current code of practice in relation to picketing could not be substantiated.

18. We note that the Government has not set out what measures will be put in place to protect those workers identified on a picket line and the picket supervisor from victimisation and/or being blacklisted by employers. We believe the Government’s approach is not even handed.

19. The NUT believes that that in the absence of any real evidence of intimidation there is no need for these proposals. Should they be implemented they would undermine the right of working people to go on strike as a last resort.

20. The NUT is supportive of Amendments 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 33 as these would remove the onerous and unnecessary restrictions on picketing activities.

Facilities time (Clauses 12 - 13)

21. The Government is seeking to limit the amount of facility time provided to public sector unions. In doing so, the Government is seeking to undermine unions’ abilities to represent their members effectively.

22. The Bill provides the Government with the power to require all public sector employers to publish information each year on the annual amount of funds used for trade union facilities, including the paid time off for union officials (Clause 12).

23. Amendments 47 and 48 would helpfully remove health and safety representatives from the reporting requirements. Health and safety representatives make a huge contribution to workplaces and to employers and also save taxpayers money. Research commissioned by the then Department of Trade and Industry in 2007, showed that by reducing lost time from occupational injuries and work-related illnesses, union safety reps save taxpayers between £181m and £587m (at 2004 prices) every year.

24. The Bill also includes a reserve power (Clause 13) which would permit the Government to introduce an arbitrary cap on the amount of money each authority can spend on facility time. The power will mean that the government can be selective as to which public authorities and indeed local authorities may be forced to impose such a cap.

25. The Bill represents a misguided attack by Ministers on trade union facilities time:

· I nvolving trade union representatives effectively can help reduce dismissal and exit rates, meaning lower recruitment costs and better staff morale and productivity. It also reduces workplace-related injuries and illnesses through better health and safety standards.

· The return on the investment made in trade union facility time is many times the sum spent.  Research commissioned for the TUC from the University of Hertfordshire stated that for every £1 spent between £3 and £9 of benefits were accrued.

· The Bill puts at risk collective agreements that employers and unions have signed up to on facilities time. There is no justification for the state to interfere in agreements which both unions and employers are happy with.

26. Amendment 51 ensures that the Bill does not interfere with the devolved administrations ability to decide how they manage their relations with the trade unions. The NUT notes the letter from Wales’ First Minister to the Prime Minister of 9 September [1] in which he said: "Similarly, it cannot be right for the UK Government – blind to policy priorities and devolved service delivery reforms in Wales – to specify how much union ‘facility time’ devolved public sector employers should allow."

Certification Officer (Clauses 14 - 17)

27. A less publicised aspect of the Bill would see a significant extension of the role, remit and powers of the regulator for trade unions, the Certification Officer.

28. The Certification Officer would be able to request more resources to regulate unions by increasing the levies paid, thereby making workers pay for the statutory regulation of their own unions. These proposals are all of a piece with the Government’s concerted attack on the powers of trade unions and their members.

29. The Certification Officer will be able to initiate an investigation against a trade union based on complaints from third parties (including employers). They will be able to subcontract the investigation, for example to an expensive accountancy form, and then pass the cost on to trade union members through their subscriptions. The NUT considers this to be blatantly unfair. The Union welcomes Amendment 68 which would mean that only the Certification Officer or members of the Certification Officer’s staff would be able to investigate a union.

AGENCY WORKERS

30. This proposal will put employment agencies in a very difficult position as it will risk them having to take sides in an industrial dispute. Large agencies operating across Europe have signed joint agreements with trade unions not to replace striking workers. There is a reason why such agreements are in place, to promote good industrial relations.

31. This proposal will put agency workers in an impossible situation. Many of our members are supply teachers employed by employment agencies. The Government has assumed that they will be willing to cross a picket line. They will not. Will pressure be put on them to cross a picket line by agencies who may not offer them future assignments if they refuse to do so? How will they be protected from victimisation due to their trade union membership? The Government has not dealt with these issues in the consultation document or the impact assessment and has failed to approach the matter in an even handed manner.

32. The Government’s proposals will divide the workforce and severely undermine trust between the parties.

33. Further information about the NUT’s response to this proposal is set out in the Union’s response to the Government’s earlier consultation on the matter [2] .

October 2015

Prepared 20th October 2015