Trade Unions Bill: Unfair, unnecessary and undemocratic
Today the government will publish its Trade Unions Bill – a grossly unfair package of measures that will tip the balance of power in the workplace.
The proposals will make getting a much-needed pay rise, stopping job losses or negotiating better conditions at work much more difficult. They’ll make it harder for unions to do their day-to-day job of dealing with problems in the workplace before they escalate into disputes. And they’ll stifle protests against cuts to public services, like closures of SureStart centres, libraries and care services.
It’s a strange choice for the party that wants to position itself as the workers’ champion. Not measures to tackle exploitation at work or boost productivity, but an unnecessary attack on workers’ rights and civil liberties.
It’s also a strange choice of priority with the economic recovery still fragile. Ask anyone running a business and it’s unlikely that messing about with trade union laws will be on their wish-list of things the government could do to help.
The thresholds for industrial action ballots have made the headlines, but even when ballots meet the government’s new rules, the bill will allow employers to break strikes by bringing in agency workers. It’s a recipe for chaos – agency workers will be put in a difficult position, and the delicate balance of industrial relations will be irrevocably tipped in favour of employers. Decent employers and agencies are likely to want to keep well away.
The proposals are also expected to restrict and police union members’ rights to peacefully picket. At a time when police resources are already badly stretched, it’s hard to think of a bigger waste of time and public money than looking to lock up peacefully protesting teachers, midwives and cleaners.
If ministers were serious about improving workplace democracy they would instead let workers vote online. In an era of online banking, safe and secure online balloting is a common sense option.
Instead, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the government is determined to weaken trade unions so that they can attack rights, pay and conditions for all workers. Collective bargaining works because both sides have some power – that’s why the vast majority of negotiations result not in strikes but in a deal being reached. And collective bargaining benefits union members and non-members alike.
We will oppose these draconian proposals. Our country has a proud tradition of liberty and democracy – and trade unions are central to that. This year, as we mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, that heritage is as important as ever. Our aim is clear: to stop this unfair, unnecessary legislation getting onto the statute books.