Peers in the chamber of the House of Lords, ahead of Trade Union Bill second reading.
Lords second reading debate shows up the deep flaws in the #TUbill
Last night’s Trade Union Bill debate in the House of Lords exposed once again how ill-thought through and partisan the government’s Bill is.
We heard concerns raised from right across the House about the threat this Bill poses to good industrial relations and fair treatment at work. Bishop of Rochester James Langstaff expressed concern that by focusing only on the “sharp end” of union activity, the Bill could put at risk the important role of unions in public life:
“Trade union activity when it works well, as it very often does, fosters good relationships in the workplace, reduces absences from work, resolves disputes, promotes mediation, avoids recourse to employment tribunals and the expense associated with them.”
It is essential that ministers listen to their Lordships before lasting damage is done.
Forcing public sector employers to abandon locally-agreed arrangements that have worked well for years will strain working relationships, at a time when local government is already under huge pressure.
Former head of the civil service, crossbencher Lord Kerslake (who penned a powerful Guardian blog earlier in the day) drew on his experience at the top of public service management, saying the proposals to withdraw check off agreements and cap facility time:
“…seem to be quite extraordinarily centralising, and completely disproportionate.”
Ministers should be engaging positively with workers and their representatives, not making their lives harder.
And politicising the role of the Certification Officer will serve only to embitter disputes. As former ACAS Chair, Labour peer Baroness Donaghy said:
“The Certification Office will not only become a highly political, sectarian and controversial organisation but will raise money from its own statutory activities. That is a conflict of interest.”
Many questioned the evidence for the Bill being advanced (or not – there was also annoyance that peers had still not been shown proper impact assessments for the Bill, this far into its passage) by the Government, and their motives for bringing such wide ranging changes. As Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Burt said:
“This Bill exists to pick a fight where no will exists on the part of unions or employers to fight.”
If the government’s true aim here is to boost participation in strike ballots, then it should stop dragging its feet and allow union members to vote in workplaces and online.
Online voting in particular was mentioned by many peers, unable to see why the Government should claim it’s not secure enough for unions, whilst the Conservative Party themselves feel able to adopt it. Crossbencher Lord Adebowale said:
“If ever there was some evidence the intention of this Bill was perhaps not entirely honourable, it’s in the refusal to allow electronic balloting.”
We’ll be working to keep the issues high in the public mind over the coming weeks of Lords debate (join our heartunions week of action from 8-14 February to help), and there is much scope here for peers to perform their traditional role of holding bad legislation to the light of proper scrutiny, regardless of party affiliation.
As Conservative peer Lord Balfe (current President of trade union the British Dietetic Association) closed a speech in which he raised several reasoned concerns with the Bill:
“… let us be careful to look at what we are doing and think about our responsibilities to democracy, which actually go further than our responsibilities to one or other side of the House.”