Stop the Lobbying Bill’s union membership data grab!
The Lobbying Bill is in trouble again. Yesterday ministers announced a six week pause to reconsider part two. This is the section that threatens free speech during election years and why it is now better known as the gagging bill.
But while there seem to be heavy hints of further concessions, there is no threat to the Bill’s timetable. Part one had its Committee stage in the House of Lords yesterday, and to fill the gap left by the ‘pause’ – the government has brought forward part three of the Bill which threatens union membership confidentiality to be debated with very little notice next Monday.
This has given little time for unions to marshal our forces and get lobbying. But today we launch an urgent campaign through our Going To Work website to resist this data grab
Part three is just as offensive and just as badly drafted and thought through as the rest of the Bill.
Our biggest worry is that it makes what should be sensitive personal data about union membership open to far too many people – think blacklisting if you wonder why people are concerned.
The inclusion of part three – which requires bigger unions to independently assure their membership, gives new powers to part of the state to access trade union membership records and allows third parties to make vexatious complaints – has always been a puzzle.
Freedom of Information requests have revealed that no-one – not even groups traditionally hostile to trade unions – has asked for this measure from government. No minister or official has been able to give a cogent explanation for why this new power is needed, nor why the already extensive regulation of trade union membership is inadequate.
Unions already have a legal obligation to maintain accurate membership systems. It is in their own interests to do so, and the Certification Officer already has sufficient powers to deal with inaccurate membership records. According to their website, the Certification Office has received no complaints from trade union members relating to registers of members since 2004. Between 2000 and 2004, a total of six complaints were received, five of which were dismissed and in the Certification Officer decided not to issue the declaration sought for the sixth.
The Bill makes big unions appoint a membership assurer from a list provided by the government who will have access to membership records, gives the Certification Officer (CO) – appointed by the government – new powers to access membership lists and allows the CO to appoint investigators to look at union membership records – including at the branch level.
And while the evidence is that union members are happy with union membership systems, the Bill allows third parties to complain. So stand by for anti-union employers, the political opponents of unions and no doubt some vexatious cranks to fill up the Certification Officer’s mail box.
The one clue we have as to the real purpose of this part of the Bill is from Lord Paul Tyler of the Liberal Democrats. He says
“The membership numbers of a trade union have a bearing on how much money they can give to a political party through their political funds. “
Yet only 15 of the 166 unions listed by the Certification Officer (quite legitimately) affiliate to the Labour Party.