From the TUC

The government is dodging proper scrutiny of the Trade Union Bill. Don’t be like #TUbill

27 Jan 2016, by in Politics

This week saw the long overdue publication of the government’s impact assessment of the Trade Union Bill, which proposed £37m of new red tape for unions. The assessment, which is the government’s best guess at how much the the unfair, undemocratic and unnecessary Bill would cost, is the latest evidence of Ministers’ rushed approach to the legislation.

These costs include an extra £12m over the next five years for unions to cover direct debit fees for members’ monthly payments, if rights to payroll deductions are taken away as proposed under the Bill. The government also estimates unions will have to pay £2m annually to cover the costs of the enhanced role of the union regulator (the Certification Officer), who as Baroness Donaghy recently remarked “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.” More troubling still, the TUC reckons the government is underestimating some of the costs unions will face as its calculations are based on crude assumptions of the union resource required to meet them – but more on that in a moment.

The Bill’s parliamentary journey kicked off 5 months ago, with 3 consultations running over the summer holidays lasting just 6 weeks. This was plainly an inadequate amount of time for trade unions, members and employers to fully respond to the proposals put forward by the government.

The government’s own consultation principles state that responses must be made within 12 weeks – which meant these should have been published in early December 2015. Christmas came and went, New Year resolutions were already broken and members of the public were two thirds of the way through dry January before the government at last responded to its consultation on ballot thresholds in important public services. All the while not a peep has come from Ministers on the consultation response to hiring agency staff during strike action. These are significant proposals, and the government’s failure to respond even according to their own principles means proper scrutiny in parliament is an impossibility. This only adds to concerns shared by many unions and employers that the Bill is undemocratic.

Meanwhile, the government did get around to publishing an equality impact assessment of the Bill back in September. The below extracts demonstrate the rushed approach Ministers have taken:

certain protected groups use important public services more frequently. [We may need to add more data here].” 


“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]”

On the Impact Assessment, Baroness Smith of Basildon noted in last week’s Lords Second Reading of the Bill that according to the Cabinet Manual it:

“’must be made available alongside Bills published in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny or introduced to Parliament, with 80 copies sent to the Vote Office … and 10 to the Lords Printed Paper Office’. We do not need 10: we will settle for one but we would like it as soon as possible.”

The Baroness wasn’t the only one who wanted a copy. And now, she probably feels like a teacher let down by one of their pupils. You know the type – the one who says their homework will be late, insists it’ll be great quality when it’s finally submitted, and ends up handing in a bit of a damp squib. (What’s worse, the pupil’s last bit of homework already got an F).

Impact assessments are a vital part of the legislative scrutiny process. The clue is in the name: parliamentarians need to understand what might happen, and how much it will cost, if they vote in favour of a Bill. But some of its claims are deeply concerning:

On proposals for trade union members to opt-in (in writing) to the political fund:

(p. 9) “Description and scale of key monetised benefits by ‘main affected groups’: There are no monetised benefits”.

Except to opposing political parties?

On check-off:

(p.11) “The key assumption in this analysis concerns the current usage of check off, which is then used to estimate administrative savings. This is made using anecdotal evidence from central government departments, combined with research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance”.

At least anecdotal evidence was combined with that of the impartial experts from the TPA.

The assessment also makes clear just how questionable the government’s justifications about their policy proposals are, for example stating that:

p.1 [Removing check-off] “will remove the administrative burden and legal burden from public sector employers, and ensure that trade unions have a direct subscription relationship with their members, like any other modern members’ organisation”.

Why are trade unions so different to other membership organisations? In its 2011 White Paper update, the government said payroll giving (a charity donation facility) was about “rebuilding the trust and social capital that underpins our prosperity and wellbeing”. Where, then, is the sense in undermining collective agreements on check off and damaging relations between public sector employers and trade unions?

What is perhaps more concerning is the methodology used in some places to calculate the financial impact on unions. It indicates that the government is underestimating the true impacts of the reforms on unions. For example, the Assessment says it will take 5 senior union officials around 8 hours to familiarise themselves with the Bill’s proposed legislative changes, and 11 hours specifically for political funds reform. We think that should the Bill receive Royal Assent it will take far more than the time of 5 senior officials to digest and respond to the proposals. It also bases its estimate of over £1m in administrative costs (paid as a one off fee and an again every 5 years) for political fund opt-in forms on union administrators spending 30 seconds printing an envelope, and a further 30 seconds to “handle each returned envelope with a written notice”. This assumption seems more than a little optimistic.

We’re still waiting on the government’s next round of homework: the impact of the 40% strike ballot thresholds, as well as the consultation response on agency workers. A brief reference was made to the 40% threshold issue in the Impact Assessment (p. 29), but these were only “initial calculations”.

Then there’s the impact assessment of the secondary regulation, which will judge the levy unions would have to pay to its reformed regulator.

All in all, failure of Ministers to meet procedural standards means that the Lords will not receive adequate information to inform proper scrutiny. This simply isn’t good enough.

ACTION: If you oppose this threat to workers’ rights, please join and share our online petition.

5 Responses to The government is dodging proper scrutiny of the Trade Union Bill. Don’t be like #TUbill

  1. John Wood

    John Wood
    Jan 27th 2016, 4:04 pm

    We also saw this lack of standards in the poor quality of witnesses put up in favour of the Bill during the committee stages in the commons. Jo Stevens (an MP who was on the committee) has more on that on the TU group of MPs’ blog:

  2. Kenneth Toulson
    Jan 27th 2016, 4:21 pm

    It’s now time to ditch the rhetoric and start a fightback. No one can be so misguided now as to believe that this vicious government will back down on this Trade Union Bill in the face of petitions, pathetic appealing, soliciting and kowtowing to self-interested politicians. After all the damage this government has done, and will continue to do, to the NHS, public services and welfare state when given full rein, the only thing that is going to stop them is a full-blown general strike, but there’s not even a whiff of this coming from the TUC or our trade union leaders.

    It need never have got to the stage of this Tory government’s all-out attack on unions’ right to strike if the TUC and most trade union leaders had not squandered multiple opportunities to take them on.

    Millions marched and took strike action over March, June and November 2011 only to be betrayed by the climb down of the Unison and GMB unions signing the ‘heads of agreement’, and in doing so, isolated the PCS union, the only union willing to fight on. Encouraged by this, Danny Alexander, in Parliament at the end of December 2011 gloated that the ‘heads of agreement’ deliver the government’s key objectives in full, and do so with no new money since our November offer.”

    Pleading for concessions serves only to show the trade union movement’s weakness. Leading people who, have over the years invested so much time and effort in strikes, rallies and protests, into action, only to repeatedly retreat, not only betrays their trust but serves to sap any confidence in a fightback.

    This vicious government is hell-bent on turning back the clock because it is ideologically opposed to trade unions who they recognise have the power to block its commitment to hand over our public assets to big business.

    It is crucial now that the whole trade union movement led by the TUC and trade union leaders show their mettle and get behind the this momentous struggle.

  3. bindi
    Jan 30th 2016, 11:53 pm

    The slow death of democracy?

  4. Ron
    Jan 31st 2016, 7:06 pm

    The problem is that the Trade Union Bill isn’t as interesting as Strictly Come Dancing. It is not seen as relevant to working people because they think that Trades Unions and the TUC are a thing of the past. Goodness knows it’s difficult not to agree with them. For an organisation that has had an amazing past and been fundemental to the majority of workers in this country all that it appears to do now is pay the executives loadsamoney and stand on the side lines whilst people are slaughtered.

  5. Peter Vandermark
    Mar 14th 2016, 10:56 am

    As far as I can see this smells of this government steering toward potential wild Union action and then justifying the bill to the scared masses through the Sun, Daily Mail, Express and Times by pointing at the danger of the Unions. Just watch the contempt shown toward NHS and the junior doctors. All part of it and it happened in exactly that way just after privatization of the railways. The unions will have to start addressing the scared majority in a way those folks understand, boys and girls.