The leaked letter. Photo of BIS offices by Mark Hillary (under Creative Commons)
Leaked letter shows ministers recognise large parts of #TUbill aren’t fit for purpose
A ministerial letter leaked to the Socialist Worker newspaper has revealed that the government are expecting the House of Lords to defeat “flagship” parts of the Trade Union Bill.
The letter was sent on 26 January from BIS minister Nick Boles to Oliver Letwin and Chris Grayling, who manage government business, and was copied to the Prime Minister. It suggests the government should be prepared to offer a wide range of concessions to see off the threat of Lords rebellions.
First on the table is a review into whether unions should be allowed to conduct e-ballots for strikes. The letter suggests this may be needed because:
“the threshold provisions (the flagship element of the bill) will be defeated if we do not make some move towards accepting the possibility of electronic balloting.”
Many peers spoke powerfully about this at second reading in the Lords, unable to see why the Government should claim it is not secure enough for unions, whilst the Conservative Party themselves feel able to adopt it for their London Mayoral selection. 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.”
The concession might not go far enough to dispel this impression though. The letter specifies no date for such a review to report, which suggests kicking an issue into the long grass rather than a genuine u-turn. It will be especially interesting to see how ministers respond to the leak of these proposals as it is the first topic up for discussion in Lords committee this afternoon.
Recognising the opposition to the trade union bill in the devolved administrations, the letter also recommends setting up a procedure to formally consult the Scottish and Welsh governments on the Bill. In addition the letter admits that the government’s own legal advice suggests they have “a very weak case in relation to Wales”, and suggests abandoning the check-off ban in Scotland and Wales if the offer of consultation is not enough.
In other areas, the letter suggests relaxing some of the more restrictive proposals, reversing the increased in the notice period unions need to give for a strike from 14 days back to seven days, and increasing the time a strike ballot is legally valid from the proposed four months to six months.
The letter also suggests withdrawing the need for a picket supervisor to wear an armband and badge – a measure that has become a symbol of the chilling effect of the bill on people exercising their civil rights.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady responded to the leaked letter, saying that whilst the TUC continues to oppose the trade union bill in its entirety:
“we are pleased that ministers recognise that large parts of this Bill are not fit for purpose. The ‘concessions’ discussed in this correspondence are important. However, as always the devil will be in the detail.
“Holding a review into electronic balloting without an end date is simply not good enough … there can be no excuse for delaying its introduction for union members.”
Read the full letter for yourself here.