Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by Councillor Alan Rhodes, Nottinghamshire County Council (TUB 49)

1. I write this letter in reference to the proposed Trade Union Bill which I feel will highly circumscribe a worker’s freedom to take industrial action. The right to withdraw labour as a last resort in industrial disputes is essential for a free society as is recognised in the European Convention on Human Rights. The Bill proposes a number of changes which I fundamentally disagree with, but as the Labour Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council I would like to concentrate on two areas, in particular they include:

Facility Time: Time off for union representation to support members

Check-off: Payroll deductions for union subscriptions

2. As a Council we operate on the basis of an ongoing, open and transparent relationship with the trade unions. They are regarded as a true and honest voice of their members, members that make up a large part of our workforce and are from across the many different departments within our Council.

3. It is a time of financial challenge for Local Government and we are, therefore, undertaking a change management programme across the whole of the Council - ‘Redefining the Council’ - which has meant that services are delivered differently, using a variety of models. This has included developing a trust for our Library Service, a joint venture and arm’s length company for our Highways Department and teckal companies. Often this has resulted in a change to employee terms and conditions or that the service is delivered differently. The Trade Unions have proven invaluable in this process as they have sought to ensure co-operation between the employer and the employee, that information is shared in an open and transparent way and we have effective communication channels between the employer and the employees. The facility time of union representatives has enabled the Trade Union to play a full and effective role in the change process as a whole. They have been a contributing factor in change across a very large organisation, change that will ultimately result in the Council saving a substantial amount of money as well as preserving and developing essential public services.

4. It is my firm belief that union representatives should have the appropriate amount of facility time in order to fulfil their role to the best of their ability. In the ever increasing financial challenges that Local Government is facing it is vitally important that union representatives continue to play their role. Without them, wholescale change of such a large organisation could become more problematic, they provide us with a direct communication route to and from the employees. The relationship is invaluable on collectively negotiated contracts, where the open and transparent conversations ensure that all needs are considered and whenever possible met.

5. This is a Bill that reserves the power of the Minister to arbitrarily curb the level of facility time; I find this unacceptable and actually not very helpful, especially for a Council that is undergoing a rapid change in order to establish its financial stability going forward whilst still providing quality services. This Bill would disrupt our relationship with the Trade Unions, of which I believe is playing a fundamental role in promoting the change process and the financial stability of the Council.

6. I would also like to take this opportunity to outline my very sincere concerns regarding the check - off element of the Bill which would outlaw the check-off or Deduction of Contributions at Source (DOCAS) systems for Trade Union subscriptions which are currently in operation across much of the public sector. This decision is being taken by Government without any consideration of local circumstances or the views of the employer or the employee. I believe it is the right of the employee to be a member of a Trade Union. I believe that Trade Union membership, not only benefits the individual employee, but the workforce as a whole, as well as the employer. Members of a Trade Union should be allowed to ask their employer to deduct their dues at source. This is an easy process, it is efficient and cheap to administer. This is all about creating an ongoing transparent relationship with the employer and the Union.

7. There are other elements of this Bill which I also oppose and I am duly concerned that basic civil liberties are being undermined in a Bill that fundamentally infringes on a person’s right to not only withdraw their labour, but actually makes it harder to pay their Union dues and limits facility time.

8. I, therefore, request that the points I have made above are considered with due care and attention as part of the consultation process in relation to the Trade Bill.

Prepared 28th October 2015