From the TUC

The Importance of Proofreading: how Trade Union Bill equality analysis admits it lacks supporting data

10 Sep 2015, by in Equality

Today the government has published its equality analysis of the Trade Union Bill. For busy readers who may not have time to read to the end of my blog, let alone the government’s 31 page document, I can reveal that the government’s analysis of its proposals to weaken workers’ rights is that there is zero impact on equality. However, a couple of embarrassing editing slip ups indicate they don’t have the data to back up their analysis.

The paper reassures us that the government plans to apply the same draconian conditions to all workers, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality or disability so no one group will be disadvantaged.  In fact the report goes so far as to argue on page 11 that:

Equality error 1

certain protected groups use important public services more frequently. [We may need to add more data here]. Where these protected groups are reflected in the union membership, they will also share in these benefits and thus we expect the net effect on most protected groups to be beneficial.”

The author’s note to self in brackets and a similar editorial slip-up on page 12:

Equality error 2

“Where certain protected groups use particular important services more frequently than average, they will disproportionately benefit from a reduction in strike action in this service. [We may need to add some statistics here]”

This reflects the government’s approach to the whole bill. It is driven by ideology rather than a rational assessment of the evidence.

A look at the statistics on the number of days lost to strike action in the UK shows that the heavy-handed and draconian restrictions that they are proposing are unjustified. As the Regulatory Policy Committee pointed out when it considered the overall impact assessment of the proposed legislation, the government’s evidence and analysis is “not fit for purpose”.

Number of days lost to strikes (1892 - 2012)

Number of days lost to strikes (1892 – 2012)

Women will be disproportionately affected by strike ballot thresholds

The government’s equality analysis published today dismisses the fact that there are more women trade union members than men as a minor detail and completely fails to mention that one of the most restrictive proposals, the higher ballot threshold for “essential services”, will affect far more women than men. Initial TUC research findings indicate that nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of the trade union members working in “important public services” are women.

Attacking the right to strike will result in worsening pay and conditions for women workers

As the Women’s Budget Group explained in their response to the consultation, the pay, terms and conditions of women working in the public sector are under attack. These proposals represent a huge barrier to women’s ability to collectively challenge and resist further attacks on their incomes and working conditions:

“Significant cuts in public services have a disproportionate effect on women and their families. The government’s proposals will mean that further opposition to jobs and services from public sector workers will be reduced. With the Chancellor asking non-protected government departments to model spending cuts of up to 40% of current finances it is no surprise that employees in these organisations want to organise to oppose significant jobs cuts, which risk damaging the scale of service provision.

The Women’s Budget Group fears that these proposals will diminish women workers’ ability to achieve better pay, working conditions and living standards.”

Unionised workplaces are better for women

The government’s equality analysis tells us overall how many women trade union members there are who might be unable to take strike action as a result of these changes but it doesn’t provide any assessment of the impact on equality in the workplace of restricting this right.

Often the very purpose of industrial action is to advance gender equality.

For instance, Essex Fire Brigade control operators (pictured above) have taken strike action this year over imposed changes to shift patterns. As Jo Byrne, FBU executive member, explained:

“These shifts disproportionately affect women with young families, and a number of our members have been forced to leave the service, whilst others have had no choice other than to reduce their hours and pay to fit in with available childcare…The decision to impose the unworkable shift system into the Essex control room was taken by a senior management team consisting predominantly of middle-aged men who have no intention of working the shift system themselves.”

In their response to the government consultation the Women’s Budget Group also cites the BIS Work Life Balance Employer survey which shows that:

  • Seventy-seven per cent of unionised workplaces had a written policy on flexible working arrangements compared with 43 per of non-union workplaces.
  • Union workplaces were more likely to offer a full range of flexible working practices including job shares, term time working, compressed working weeks and annualised hours.
  • Fifty-two per cent of unionised workplaces provide enhanced maternity pay compared with 35 per cent of non-unionised workplaces
  • Union workplaces are also more likely to provide support for women returning to work from maternity leave. Eighty per cent of union workplaces allowed for a phased return to work; 77 per cent ran keep-in-touch schemes compared with 58 per cent of non-union workplaces.  Seventy-seven per cent of unionised workplaces offered retraining for women returning to work after maternity leave, compared with 58 per cent of non-union workplaces.

So while I have some sympathy with the government’s assessment that this sledgehammer of a Bill aims to inflict maximum damage on all union members equally, I believe that the government has underestimated, or simply failed to understand, the disproportionate impact on women.