Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by Councillor Barrie Grunewald Leader of the Council and Rainhill Ward Councillor (TUB 46)

Submission to the Public Bill Scrutiny Committee in respect of the Trade Union Bill

1. My name is Councillor Barrie Grunewald and I am submitting this evidence to the above Committee in my capacity as Leader of St Helens Council, Merseyside.

2. I am obviously in a political role at the Council but I wish this submission to be on behalf of St Helens Council and I have encompassed the views of professional officers and organisations such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development to form a balanced and objective submission.

3. I have already responded to the three elements permitted during the consultation period, however, I have taken the liberty of submitting this organisation’s views on a fourth element namely the proposals regarding deductions of trade union subscriptions (check off). I will advance my submission in sequential order.

Consultation on Ballot Thresholds in Important Public Services

4. This issue is largely hypothetical and implies that in certain public sector arenas there has been widespread and significant disruption over the years. I accept that there have been certain disputes with public sector employees, but these have generally centred around fundamental issues such as pension reform etc. On reflection of this specific issue, all three major parties arrived at a consensus in terms of pension reform and saw the merit in what the trade unions were protesting about.

5. Nothwithstanding the above, the key impacts alluded to in the Bill are extreme and it is difficult to imagine the scenarios outlined in the proposals as reaching reality. There is certainly no evidence in recent years of the key impacts alluded to in the consultation documentation manifesting themselves.

6. The proposals are an attack on democracy, a disproportionate reaction and will only seek to erode workers’ rights and create a division between public sector employees and government.

7. It is very difficult to define what an important public service is. However, over the years the public sector and its workforce have played a critical role in shaping society and addressing what society itself sees as important. In turn, public sector workers are committed to achieving the highest standards and do not deserve to be treated differently in terms of their workers’ rights.

8. St Helens Council does not believe that any of the occupations outlined in the consultation document should be subject to any further reform, in particular the proposed draconian balloting percentages. More specifically a 50% threshold in favour of industrial action and a 40% threshold of those entitled to vote is disproportionate and will be perceived by employees as eroding their employment rights.

9. Moreover, St Helens Council views all public sector organisations similarly and equally important. There is no requirement to alter the democratic process in terms of trade union ballots and required percentages of participating and acceptance.

10. The proposals would add to the bureaucracy and red tape involved in a trade union organising a ballot bearing in mind the 50% and 40% voting threshold areas proposed by the Government. This effectively removes the right to strike from certain public sector employees and is potentially a contravention of international law.

Consultation on tackling intimidation of non-striking workers response form

11. At St Helens Council we have encountered industrial action both nationally and locally and we have worked on a reasonable basis with both the trade unions and the police. We do not believe that any further strengthening of legislation is necessary. As far as St Helens Council is concerned we have no evidence of intimidatory behaviour.

12. It is the opinion of St Helens Council that there is already sufficient criminal and civil law to regulate the behaviour of individuals on picket lines during industrial action. The current legislation does not need any strengthening and there is no requirement for a specific criminal offence for the examples quoted in consultation documentation i.e. intimidation on a picket line.

13. The experience of St Helens Council when encountering industrial relations disputes and picketing has been peaceful, limited in accordance with the legislation and all pickets identified by their trade unions. There is no requirement for further enforcement of the numbers and activities of pickets.

14. From experience it is pretty obvious what the Unions’ plans are when it comes to picketing and industrial action. The existing codes of practice and legislation already require picketing to be confined to an employees’ place of work and limits the number of pickets. There is no requirement to extend this further.

15. There are already sufficient measures to hold unions accountable via the Legislation and Certification Officer. To force trade unions to publish details in annual reports of arrests or injunctions etc. is petty and serves no worthwhile purpose.

16. Trade Unions are already accountable for the actions of their members but in a democratic society how can an organisation possibly be held to account for the individual actions of a few individuals. We cannot perceive in a democratic society, that any other organisation as a Football Club, Rugby Club, Cricket Club, Golf Club, or Social Club would have to face such stringent accountabilities of its members as this proposal is for trade unions.

17. In summary this element of the Bill is wholly disproportionate and legislation has been in place for more than thirty years that holds trade unions to account. There is no requirement for further legislation in this matter.

Hiring agency staff during strike action – reforming regulation

18. St Helens Council engages agency workers in a variety of occupations and professions and is proud of the fact that all agency workers engaged by St Helens Council are employed on no less favourable conditions than its substantive workforce. Indeed, agency employers within St Helens are regarded as reasonable employers and partners with the Council in achieving our objectives.

19. The experience of St Helens Council is that we find agency workers are generally willing and happy to take employment at the Council due to there being future prospects of employment. It is a completely different scenario to recruit agency employees to cover the jobs of those people taking industrial action and from our experience it cannot be assumed that these agency workers would willingly take these jobs and undertake these activities.

20. This proposal has the potential to put unfair and undue pressure on a section of the national workforce i.e. work seekers. Agency workers sometime are in the unfortunate position of accepting agency work due to unemployment or as an interim position prior to taking permanent employment. It is unfair to place agency worker in the invidious position of having to replace a workforce who is taking legitimate industrial action.

21. In terms of agency employers, the proposal will potentially affect the ability of them to recruit suitable candidates given the potential for the aforementioned undue pressure. Agency employers rely on goodwill and of being able to deploy a flexible workforce into a reasonable employment relationship. The removal of regulation 7 creates the potential for conflict between employees and the hirers.

22. The proposal again has the potential to create divisions within the workforce and make solutions to industrial relations problems more difficult. Employees taking lawful legitimate industrial action do not expect to be replaced with unofficial labour. It has the potential to cause conflict within a workforce and in a community as a whole.

23. Despite assertions to the contrary industrial action is not a feature of everyday life in Britain. The potential impact implies "high handed" state control on people’s human rights.

24. There are many flawed hypotheses in this particular proposal. Hiring staff directly may be difficult but the hypothesis that hiring agency staff will be any easier is flawed. As stated, agency employees are generally willing to work in organisations due to the prospects of more secure direct employment and it is not generally the intention of agency employees to cover the work of employees taking industrial action.

25. Finally from a pragmatic and experienced perspective it cannot be assumed that agency workers are prepared and available at short notice to provide cover. Indeed national disputes will invariably reduce the agency pool.

26. I would go as far to state that this proposal is based on a bizarre and theoretical model and the assumptions within it bear no relation to the practical experiences of organisations such as St Helens Council.

Deduction of Trade Union Subscriptions by Employers

27. As stated although not within the consultation documentation I feel the need to comment in that this practice which has existed for generations has clearly been misunderstood. There appears to be a misconception that somehow organisations such as St Helens Council are providing a free service to the Trade Unions at a cost to the local taxpayer.

28. At St Helens and I assume at most organisations the converse is true in that this practice generates income as the Council receives a percentage of all monies collected.

29. Furthermore, it is yet again a punitive and petty measure that appears to be directed solely at Trade Unions. This is demonstrated by the fact that St Helens Council makes deductions from the salaries of its employees for a plethora of Charities and approved organisations.

30. St Helens Council is fundamentally opposed to this proposal within the Bill.

October 2015

Prepared 28th October 2015