Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by Councillor Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council (TUB 55)

Turnout Requirements

As leader of Lancashire County Council, I consider the increased turnout requirement for industrial action proposed in the bill unnecessary, arbitrary and overcomplicated. Even in the face of unprecedented cuts to this authority's budget, the number of days lost to strike action remains very small.

It also seems unclear from the wording of the bill what services would be considered ‘important public services'. It is unclear whether that would then require multiple ballots for different services even within the council as a single employer, even in the event of a single nationwide dispute such as with the pensions dispute. Potentially, some council workers could strike on any successful ballot over a 50% turnout threshold but others would require 40% support amongst all those eligible to vote.

Such poor definitions suggest that the bill was drafted with specific political objectives in mind as opposed to any consideration relating to the democratic will of workers in any given workplace. Indeed, the vast majority of Members of Parliament are elected with less than 40% the vote.

Industrial Relations

If the Trade Union Bill genuinely seeks to improve the turnout of ballots, it seems unusual that other methods of balloting have not been considered such as electronic balloting which saves time and money during negotiations with unions. The proposal to introduce turnout requirements and re-balloting after four months would lengthen and potentially intensify disputes as unions will be essentially forced to go to greater lengths to mobilise support amongst staff.

Other elements of the Trade Union Bill similarly have the potential to entrench positions and hinder a satisfactory conclusion being made between employers and unions.

Using agency staff in an attempt to break strikes would undermine mutual respect and trust between the council and its staff. This kind of measure does not sit comfortably with the kind of atmosphere we wish to create in the workplace.

The measures covering facility time are also a cause for concern. There is a significant amount of evidence from researchers that says that facility time from trade union representatives can minimise disputes by improving communication between employers and staff and by resolving smaller issues before they escalate. The use of facility time for trade union representatives should be a negotiated decision between employers and unions to suit the specific needs of that workplace, rather than something dictated by government.

Regulation of Picketing

The proposals to further tighten the regulations on pickets are unnecessary and run the risk of criminalising council workers for very minor infringements of what seems to be a draconian set of regulations. There are also concerns about the time that could be wasted policing these additional regulations at a time when police forces are also increasingly stretched themselves because of budget cuts.

Political Donations

Forcing union members to opt-in rather than opt-out of union political funds seems to have nothing to do with democracy and everything to do with an attempt to reduce the well-regulated and democratically agreed small donations from millions of workers to the Labour Party, whilst offering no checks whatsoever on the large donations from big business and the wealthy who bankroll the Conservative Party

The Role of the Certification Officer

It seems difficult to understand what the proposed changes to the role of the Certification Officer seek to achieve. Currently we have a highly respected, independent officer who can initiate, investigate, make decisions and ultimately punish trade unions over clearly internal constitutional matters such as trade union elections or union mergers, without there even being any complaints raised by any of the trade union’s members.

This opens up the office to being bogged down with investigations initiated as the result of spurious complaints by employers or politically motivated members of the public. The extra cost of this will then be apparently carried by trade unions but not employers’ federations such as the CBI. In doing so, I believe this would result in two problems, firstly undermining the cherished independent status that the Certification Officer enjoys and secondly distract the Certification Officer from performing the best possible job in the role we currently understand the post to encompass.

October 2015

Prepared 28th October 2015