Trade Union Bill

Written evidence submitted by Oldham Council (TUB 59)

This Council notes with disappointment the passing of the Trade Union Bill at its second reading in P arliament on 14 September 2015.

This Council recognise s the importance and real efficiencies to be gained via collective bargaining and the benefits of early engagement with our Trade Union colleagues . This Council believes that the Bill represents the most vicious attack on Trade Unions in over 30 years by introducing measures that will make it more difficult for employees to stand up for and defend their rights at work. Trade Unions call for and initiate the taking of industrial action for a wide range of reasons, including defending wages and pensions, conditions at work as well as health and safety. To actively undermine this is draconian, is against basic human rights. In this regard this Council notes that Liberty, Amnesty International and the British Institute of Human Rights have all condemned the Bill as an attack on the basic right to protest.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has branded this law to be an 'outdated response that could have potentially counterproductive consequences'.

In Oldham we recognise the importance of Trade Unions and the work they do representing their members. We have a good track record in employee relations such as collective agreement of single status work. The Council, via participation in and observance of nationally negotiated conditions is committed to the principle and practice of collective bargaining. In these times of unprecedented change, this Council currently reaps the benefits and economies of collective bargaining through regular consultation and negotiation with representative bodies. The draft contents of the Bill are such that collective bargaining arrangements, efficiencies and the real savings that these practice offer to increasingly scarce management resources, are likely to be undermined if approved in their current form.

Moreover, the Council’s Fair Employment Charter includes a direct commitment to supporting, engaging and working with our Trade Unions to minimise the causes and impact of potential disputes. The Bill fundamentally undermines and is at odds with what, for this Council, is a constitutionally approved commitment to joint working with our recognised Trade Unions.

Implications of the Bill for Oldham Council

Proposed Voting Thresholds

This provision is at odds with elections in local government, for police and crime commissioners, and in European or Westminster elections where no such thresholds apply. The introduction of thresholds will likely encourage the unions to increase the push on returning ballot papers giving them a greater bargaining position where turn out meets the threshold. Moreover, this should be weighed against the backdrop that the north-west has a traditionally higher ‘yes’ vote for strike action than elsewhere in the country and in recent times that the majority of returns in favour of strike action has been significantly higher than the proposed requirement.

No ‘e-voting or balloting’

Continuing to deny the e-vote or ballot is undemocratic, manipulative and diametrically opposed to a modern day approach. It is safe and secure and very many membership organisations use e voting or balloting. A recent Speaker’s Commission for Parliament recommended secure e voting for all voters. This constraint also mitigates against what would otherwise be a true ballot turnout and therefore full democratic participation. It imposes the funding of expensive and inconvenient postal ballots from Trade Union subscriptions which are already burdensome for the lowest paid members.

Tackling intimidation of non-striking workers

There are already legislative protections in place against intimidation of non-striking workers. This directly begs the question whether further legislation is needed and whether the bureaucracy of requiring trade unions to do such as notify the police of picket details is justifiable at a time of significant budget cuts and stretched resources for them also.

Introduction of a transparent opt-in process for the political fund element of Trade Union subscriptions

As above, Trade Unions already have measures which give members the option of paying a political levy or of opting out. This proposal is therefore an unnecessary provision and is not in any event similarly mirrored in the regulations relating to the contributions of wealthy organisations and individuals to such as the Conservative party.

Introduction of 4 month time limits on a mandate following a ballot for industrial action

The proposal for a ‘shelf life’ for ballots will likely intensify disputes from the onset as the Trade Unions attempt to settle disputes without re-balloting; this in turn will create increased service disruption for the wider public and/or increased costs to the public purse.

Proposed changes to the role of the Certification Officer (CO)

This would require Unions to include new types of information on industrial action ballots and exceptionally to provide what is currently private information to the CO both of which will increase existing Trade Union costs. In addition to the impact on member subscription rates, these new powers could expose employees as Trade Union members and increase the possibility of ‘black listing’ or victimisation. In its’ fair Employment Charter, Oldham Council expressly supports the Trade Union movement, encourages Trade Union membership and the proposal is in direct contravention of this Council’s constitutionally held belief.

Extension of existing transparency requirements relating to Trade Union facilities

There are already provisions around publication of information relating to the publication of Facilities time. These are covered by the recently introduced Local Government Transparency Regulations. The requirement as it stands already enables authorities to benchmark and ensure both proportionality and VfM from Trade Union/employer joint working. Extension of these requirements will thus create a new and ongoing bureaucracy whilst potential limits on Facilities time and costs will also undermine collective bargaining and constructive employee relations which, through their very existence, work to avoid costly disputes and industrial action.

The intention to abolish check-off

This Council currently undertakes a check-off or DOCAS arrangement in that Union members can pay for membership through payroll. The amendment to the proposed Bill, announced on 6 August 2015, includes that check off will be abolished in the public sector. Currently many public sector workers who are Union members have their subscriptions taken directly from their salary. The Government rationale that this provision will reduce the administrative burden on employers and give employees greater control over subscriptions is misplaced. The reality is that this Council, as other public sector employers, employers charge for check off and, in Oldham’s case, this will result in a costly contract claim for loss of income from our strategic partner and provider of payroll transactional services. Also importantly, without the convenience of check-off, Trade Union membership is likely to decline substantially again impacting on the ability of both management and staff sides to participate in meaningful collective bargaining.

Potentially lifting the ban on agency workers during strike action

The initial Conservative manifesto proposals mentioned the potential for lifting the ban on employers using agency workers to cover striking employees. If the Government seeks repeal of the relevant provision (currently contained within Regulation 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003), the effect would be significant because, if utilised by the Council, the impact of strike action on front line public services would be severely limited or even negated. The right to strike and protest are fundamental rights which should be respected in a free and democratic society and these proposals simply add to the disturbing trend to erode civil liberties and inhibit the right to speak out or protest against the G overnment.

In Summary

This Council will take further steps to set out our position and oppose this Bill via a f ull Council M otion and making representations to the Sec retary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills . This Council will also request to our local MPs similarly to oppose the Bill and use all means available during the Committee stage of the Bill to prevent it from being enacted in its current form.

October 2015

Prepared 28th October 2015