|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I am grateful to the Minister for picking up the point about a communication arriving in an official looking document which gives it more veracity. I shall read carefully what the Minister has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Baroness Turner of Camden: I speak on this clause because of what I find to be a rather puzzling innovation. I refer to the suitable independent person, the SIP. It looks to me as though opting for a SIP is the introduction to the processes set out in the Bill which lead to recognition. Obviously, I welcome any procedures that make it easier for a union to secure recognition. There is no doubt about that.
I should perhaps explain that I spent a substantial part of my union career campaigning for recognition. The union of which I was assistant general secretary was, and still is, a major union catering for white-collar employees in private industry and commerce. We recruited substantially in the finance sector. The employers at that time were not used to dealing with unions, except for internal house associations, which they had often been responsible for setting up themselves. When some of these house unions joined the union, the employers were often apprehensive and in some cases actively hostile.
Obviously, the union sought recognition, but it would not have done so had it not already had a significant number of the staff in membership of the union. We set up union committees and union representatives were elected from within the recruited staff. Access to non-members was therefore not difficult. We issued material via the elected representatives and meetings were held, either on site or adjacent to it, to which non-members were invited and at which union officials were able to explain the benefits of union membership.
Why, therefore, is the appointment of a suitable independent person required in order for the union to conduct communications with staff? A suitable independent person is clearly not in a position to speak for the union in the way that a union representative or official is able to. A suitable independent person will no doubt charge for services rendered and the charge, presumably, will have to be borne by the union. One can imagine the growth of new opportunities for entrepreneurial consultants of various kinds, all offering services. Is that what is envisaged? If so, why do we need it? I would be interested to know from the Government why it is thought to be either necessary or desirable.
I repeat that I am in favour of anything that makes it easier for unions to achieve recognition and easier for them to communicate with non-union employees. I do not believe that we need this new type of official who will be a charge of the process. If unions have a real case for recognition, they already have a substantial presence and they are able to communicate with members and non-members.
Lord McCarthy: My noble friend has made the case. She has said almost everything that we would want to say. However, I should like to draw the Government's attention to the Explanatory Notes. I, too, was mystified by the appearance of this character. He is not the same character who conducts the ballot; that is another superior person with a slightly different name.
7 Jun 2004 : Column GC27
"Clause 5 inserts new paragraphs 19C to 19F after paragraph 19B (which is inserted by clause 4). At present, a union(s) may only formally communicate with workers during the period for a CAC ordered ballot".
My first question is: what is this formality that you can do through this character that you cannot do for yourself? Secondly, has anyone asked for this provision? Have the TUC or the CBI asked for it? I cannot find out. Whose idea is this? Suppose a union communicated with the workers without creating and going through this character and said, "We were only informal. Never mind, that is all right". Or suppose it said: "Well, we communicated with our members". After all, some of the people in the bargaining unit, as my noble friend said, must be members of the union. Some might have been members for 20 years; some might be shop stewards. We are being told that they cannot be communicated with formally. What can this mean?
Lord Campbell of Alloway: Briefly, and for the sake of the record, I say that I whollyI have had little experience of this kind of affair compared with noble Lords who have spoken, but I have had somesupport the objection to this independent person. In a way it is an insult to the competence of the trades unions to manage their affairs as they would wish. I do not understand it at all.
Baroness Miller of Hendon: I have only one tiny point to make about that. I leave aside the line about which the noble Baroness is concerned, that is the matter of the suitably qualified independent person; the parts the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, took from the Explanatory Notes about "formally", although I have always understood that the notes were not exactly binding but were advice on the way; and the point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell. And, leaving those aside, Clause 5 is an important clause. It deals with unions' communication with workers after the acceptance of an application. I would have thought that deleting the whole of the clause would wreck that particular part of the Bill. The reason I say that is because I do not understandbut no doubt the noble Baroness or the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, could advise mewhy they did not table another amendment. New paragraph 19C(2) states:
It does not say that it is obliged to. Perhaps an amendment could have been tabled to delete that without actually going to the length of wishing to
7 Jun 2004 : Column GC28
delete the whole clause. We put down some amendments, but I did not think it appropriate to try to delete the whole clause.
Lord McCarthy: That was my first feeling. The noble Baroness drew my attention to this. She asked me what I thought about the part about Clause 5. I said, "Well, they don't have to apply if they don't want to. They only may do it". But, as the noble Baroness says, it leads in to certain advantages which you do not seem to get unless you decide to have this person. So there are advantages. They are being induced to go into this scheme, but I do not see why.
Baroness Turner of Camden: Perhaps I may explain to the noble Baroness why I put down the Motion to oppose the Question that Clause 5 stand part of the Bill. We are in Grand Committee. I wanted to voice my concerns about the clause to see what the Minister had to say about it. Obviously, the matter will not be pressed today as it cannot be in this Committee. The intention was to put on record my concerns about the SIP, what the position meant and to hear what my noble friend would say in reply. Then of course we can decide what to do further.
Lord Triesman: I shall take up the invitation to explain how we think this piece of legislation operates. The first thing I must say is that we are dealing here with that element of the legislation which deals with the CAC process and its formal processes and not with the whole of the generality which is built up to a pattern of recruitment and there being sufficient members. Indeed, I know precisely what the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, means because I myself was trained in these matters of recruitment in the forerunner union known as ASTMS. So I recognise the points that have been made.
Perhaps I may start by trying to answer the questions and then say more about the Government's intention in the clause. There were several important questions. The TUC supports Clause 5 and the extra abilityand it is additional abilitythat it gives to unions to communicate with the workforce. It is not an alternative, but an additional ability. The union is free to communicate with workers by whatever means it sees fit. The use of the word "formally" simply refers to the access which the employer is obliged to facilitate as part of the formal procedure. So it is not a restriction or a want of trust. The point was made that it might be.
I was asked why the union should not distribute its materials itself rather than through the qualified independent person who might add to the expense and complexity. The Government need to protect the disclosure of personal information to the union. It is likely that some individualsprobably the minority, but who knowsmight be unhappy about the union knowing their home addresses. Their interests need to be safeguarded in that respect. Hence we have devised a role for the qualified independent person to act as a go-between.
7 Jun 2004 : Column GC29
It is a fairly simple mechanism. It builds on the existing system of communication which is set out for use during the balloting stage, and it is not expensive to the union. Of course unions can continue to use their normal recruitment methods to support their recognition case. The procedure does not stop unions organising off-site meetings or issuing general invitations to the workers to attend through notices in newspapers, leafleting or any of the many methods that over the years trades unions have tried to use.
The point really is about the statutory procedure. It already provides for unions to access the relevant workforce from the time when the CAC has arranged for the holding of a ballot. The access can take two forms. First, the union's written material can be sent to the workforce by the independent person appointed by the CAC. Secondly, unions are entitled to arrange workplace meetings.
I emphasise, because we are already a little down the track since the 1999 legislation, that these arrangements have broadly worked satisfactorily in the view of the people who have used them. There have been few disputes about arranging access, and businesses have not been disrupted as a result. The workforce know more about the union's position and are better placed as a result to make an informed decision when casting their votes.
Of course, this access is limited to the short period of the ballotusually about 20 days. It is also very late in that process. Ballots on average occur about 15 weeks after an application has been lodged with the CAC. Unions have argued that they should be entitled to some form of access at a far earlier stage in the process. They point out that employers have unfettered access throughout the life of an application and have many more weeks to put across their arguments.
The Government see the force of those arguments. Clause 5 therefore provides arrangements which ensure earlier access for the union. This access will start at the point where the CAC accepts a union's application as admissible. That is a sensible point to require access. Everyone knows that the union's application is a "runner" at that point and that it meets the basic criteria of the procedure. Everyone can see that in a transparent way.
Concern has been expressed on this point in Committee in the other place. However, I emphasise again that workers' addresses would be seen only by the CAC and the independent persons. Communications would pass through them to the home addresses because that is the only way in which you can protect the confidentiality of home addresses. But it does not alter the rights of trades unions to continue to supply their normal communications.
I believe that the clause therefore strikes a fair balance. Access takes place outside the workplace and so avoids disruption. It has no cost to the employer. The workers will receive and read communications in their own time. Most importantly, the clause recognises the need for workers to be kept informed about the recognition campaign that is being conducted in their name and on
7 Jun 2004 : Column GC30
which they will have the opportunity to vote later in the process. That is the right balance which historically has emerged. For those reasons I believe that the clause should stand part.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|