From the TUC

Stop the Lobbying Bill’s union membership data grab!

07 Nov 2013, by in Politics


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.


4 Responses to Stop the Lobbying Bill’s union membership data grab!

  1. Steven carter
    Nov 8th 2013, 9:43 am

    Can you hear it , the thump , thump thump of the jackboot coming down Whitehall , first it was the unions and political activists , then it was ordinary people.
    This may be an exageration but the same analagy applies, why do the goverment need to access my membeship files when I will gladley ask any questions they care to ask me, I am not a terrorist I am not a threat to the state , I am a union man who wants my members to work in an enviroment on an even playing field.
    Instead of trying to use union membership as somthing snister, they should look to thier own corrupt ministers, who are usually the ones who scream the loudest.

    yours S.K.Carter RMT Rep.

  2. [email protected]
    Nov 8th 2013, 11:44 pm

    Nothing surprises me about the establishment of this country, not just the hated tories that make up the majority of thier ranks. If anyone has any doubts at all about their determination to destroy the orginised labour movement then I would urge you to read “The Enemy Within” by Seamus Milne. It is an expose about the miners strike and the allegations that were made against Arthur Scargill and his fellow NUM leadership. The dirty tricks that were played by the Thatcher goverment and the media are beyond belief in what is supposed to be a democratic society. The legislation that was brought in then and never reversed under new Labour laid the ground work for an oppresive bill like this. Unfortunetly the working man’s loss of faith in the labour movement and general apathy towards politics is encouraging them to implement this kind of bill. Too many people are believing newspaper articles that feature in many mainstream papers that trade unions are bad, disruptive and far removed from the reasons why they were started in the first place. The carry on at Grangemouth is a prime example. It was a corporate stich up from the start, NUM all over again.

  3. Dave Eastham
    Nov 10th 2013, 12:55 pm

    Whilst there is no doubt this Bill is the proverbial “dog’s breakfast” as a piece of legislation and that part three is merely an un-evidenced attack on a Trade Union’s ability to operate.(The Impact assessment is truly laughable – legislation based on quote; “anecdotal evidence” unquote; – Para 12 of the Impact assessment!). There does not however, seem to be any provision for Employers or others to make complaints to the Certification Officer regarding the membership lists other than exists at present. Surely in the case of third party access to membership rolls it would be subject to the Data Protection Act?. That said, I wonder if the TUC has any legal advice that it is indeed the case that employers would be able to make such complaints under this Bill?.

  4. Matin hawkins
    Nov 11th 2013, 3:20 pm

    Here we go again the government want to do their utmost to kerb our freedom of speech and make life even harder for trade union members trying to preserve a resonable standrd to living. They need to get this bill through because they want to stifle any responce we make to the latest attack on our pensions during an election year. not heard about it yet. Three main points, 1 No widows/widowers pension. 2 No increase for inflation. 3 The employers having the right to stick your final salary fund into a defined contribution fund if you leave the company. Sounds incredible, just read The Sunday Times money section 10/11/13. Martin Hawkins Unite.