From the TUC

Union campaign scores a win with big changes made to #TUbill

27 Apr 2016, by in Politics

It’s been a difficult 10 months since the Government introduced the Trade Union Bill. The co-ordinated campaign against these damaging proposals has taken a huge effort from across the union movement. But the bill that passed the Commons today was hugely reduced from what the government had originally proposed –  an amazing turnabout for a flagship bill at the start of a new parliament.

The Trade Union Bill is a textbook example of how not to develop legislation. A populist (and innumerate) policy on strike ballots and a sly dig at Labour party funding made it into the Conservative manifesto. Then over the months afterwards, the bill became bloated with further proposals for new trade union rules that ministers thought they might get away with.

It was clear from the moment the bill was introduced that they hadn’t done their homework. Consultation was limited and rushed – and we waited months for a government response. The impact assessments were rated not fit for purpose by the government’s own watchdog (and in one case, notes to insert evidence later were left in a published document!). Vital evidence wasn’t made available so MPs and peers could scrutinise the bill fully. A series of ill-prepared government witnesses made a shambles of the Commons scrutiny committee stage.

The trade union movement’s job was to expose just how ill-thought-through the bill was, and to build the campaign against it. And it worked: in recent months the Government have looked increasingly isolated. Pretty much every stage of the parliamentary process has seen concessions from ministers, dealing with growing concern in their own ranks, and growing anger at the shoddy nature of the bill during its progress through the Lords. And today, the government has finally thrown in the towel and conceded on some of the big defeats they suffered in the Lords.

The bill is now much shorter – shorn of some of the most damaging proposals.

The government has to date:

  • DROPPED extreme measures to restrict protest, such as giving employers detailed plans for pickets and social media campaigns two weeks in advance, or making everyone on a picket line show their personal data to the police, employers or anyone who asked to see it.
  • SCALED BACK the double threshold for strike ballots in “important public services”, to avoid capturing hundreds of thousands of ancillary workers.
  • ABANDONED plans to ban union subscriptions via payroll (check-off), provided the union pays payment processing costs (as many already do).
  • CONCEDED safeguards against politicisation of the role of the union regulator (Certification Officer) and reduced its costs to unions.
  • WATERED DOWN plans to restrict union political funds. Changes will no longer apply to existing members, and the cost and effort of new requirements will be much reduced.
  • AGREED TO a review of letting unions use online methods for strike ballots. This would help increase turnouts, as we know postal balloting suppresses them.
  • ADDED SAFEGUARDS to a new reserve power to cap union facility time. This will happen now only after at least 3 years of research and negotiation with employers.

But make no mistake, there are still some harmful proposals that could become law, including:

  • Unfair strike ballot turnout thresholds – including a huge double threshold for so-called “important public services”.
  • Rules about identifying picket leaders to police that worry trade unionists in light of the construction blacklisting scandals.
  • New membership rules that seem to be designed to cost unions time and money, and increase employers’ opportunities to use the courts to stop strikes.

Next step is to see if the Lords will insist on their amendments that the government refused. But even if the bill passes, there will still be arguments to come on the mass of secondary regulations and codes of practice still to be published. And there will be a major battle around the proposals to remove the long-standing ban on employers using agency workers to break strikes. This was never part of the bill, but progressing alongside it. It’s disappeared for now, but we suspect it will be back.

So: today is a day to be proud. None of these positive changes would have happened without the trade union movement uniting to mount a major campaign against the bill. Union members marched, emailed, signed petitions, held local events, joined consultations, told their stories on billboards, and took part in the biggest ever mass lobby of MPs. We’ve had amazing support from allies across civil society, including human rights organisations, public sector employers and politicians of all parties (including principled positions taken by many Conservative MPs and Peers).

There’s more to do, but union members everywhere can feel justly proud today in what we’ve achieved – and in what that tells us about the power, relevance and vitality of our trade union movement.

14 Responses to Union campaign scores a win with big changes made to #TUbill

  1. Thomas Ball
    Apr 28th 2016, 10:03 am

    Whilst this climbdown by Government may be regarded as something of a victory, it is clear from their original proposals that their aim is to diminish the rights of workers to act in defence of pay and conditions in the workplace. We must remain ever vigilant as I have no doubt that there will be another attempt to introduce similar draconian law in the future.

  2. Michael Cole
    Apr 28th 2016, 10:17 am

    It is, at best, a partial victory for the Trade Union movement; we didn’t get the Trade Union Bill scrapped as it should be scrapped. We need to keep the pressure on this anti-trade union government and don’t let up for a second.
    When and if there is a Labour Government we must ensure that they repeal all anti trade union laws.

  3. Thomas Taylor
    Apr 28th 2016, 11:36 am

    This is neither the time to celebrate or hesitate. Whilst accepting this as a minor moral victory. The TUC realistically needs to adopt a ‘Bob Crowe, Scargill or Red Robbo’ aproach to these things. Unite union for example are just far too watered down in the approach to matters. The TUC if it wants on the one hand to fight the govt for the right to strike, should ensure that the local convener etc. Actually ‘Has a set’ before allowing them to take office the Go Ahead Mandella way situation hihhlights the ‘not wanting to rock the boat’ ‘cosying up to management’ jobs for the boys! Attitudes that have us in this situation. On a side note no funding should be given to the Labour party until till such time their mandate and key manifesto commitments are too allow Unions the rights they had prior to the Thatcher regime! Anything less is a total betrayal by the TUC Labour party and any of the unions.

  4. John Ellis
    Apr 28th 2016, 12:40 pm

    At least this is a step in the right direction, however, as well as keeping up the pressure on this undemocratic anti-union bill, this Corporate run Tory Oligarchical regime must be watched the whole time.
    There is still the aim of total privatisation of the NHS. There is also still the aim of breaking up and selling off the BBC – with Murdoch waiting in the wings, the plans for the total privatisation of the Land Registry is well advanced, with National Parks, Public Woodlands and Areas of Special Scientific Interest under threat through this, what better way to privatise the National Parks this way.
    What ever the PM or any Tory says, it must be treated with absolute caution, as they cannot be trusted at all.

  5. Adrian Turner
    Apr 28th 2016, 2:27 pm

    We should have aty least the union rights of the main developed countries of the EU. I am surprised thet the EU does not pressure our government on the subject.

  6. Ablemate
    Apr 28th 2016, 2:44 pm

    It is disturbing to read in the news that the government traded concessions in the bill for unions supporting the Remain campaign in the EU referendum.
    If there is any truth whatsoever to these rumours I, for one, would withdraw my support for the unions.

  7. Paul M
    Apr 28th 2016, 3:00 pm

    Exactly IF there is any proof. Don’t jump the gun.

  8. John Wood

    John Wood
    Apr 28th 2016, 3:42 pm

    Hi Ablemate. No secret pact. Unions are campaigning on both TU bill and EU referendum and would be doing both the best they could whatever happened. Goes without saying we oppose the bill, but TUC and remain-registered unions think Brexit would be damaging to better jobs, work rights and living standards. There’s more on reasons for this here:

  9. Oliver New
    Apr 28th 2016, 7:17 pm

    The concessions are really important, but it has to be said they are ones that mainly assist organisers, officials and Labour. The provisions that prevent workers going on strike are still there. The Tory intention of stopping workers defending themselves hasn’t been undermined.
    We need to find ways to take on these vicious laws.

  10. Bobbie
    Apr 28th 2016, 7:31 pm

    While retired and not a Union member I’m elated as a huge Union supporter that is active online – to learn of important, rightful gains made against the iniquitous parliamentary bill that seeks to curtail rights for working people in the workplace. Well Done TUC! and Well Done! all associates who seek ‘British fair play’ in the workplace.

  11. Colin
    Apr 28th 2016, 10:39 pm

    In fact NHS Trusts are busy hiving off areas of service to inadequate private concerns; see 38 Degrees campaign to restore Sussex ambulance services to public operation, following catastrophic mismanagement by a company called Coperforma, which was awarded the contract to transport patients to hospital for their oncology, kidney dialysis appointments etc.

  12. Edmond Paul
    Apr 29th 2016, 7:53 am

    How will a no vote affect unions

  13. Trade Union Bill: Stand up for union rights
    Apr 29th 2016, 11:58 am

    […] working in Parliament and campaigning hard across the country, we have forced the Government into important concessions in a number of areas; from check-off and facility time, to political funds and electronic […]

  14. Jeanette Murray
    May 3rd 2016, 4:00 pm

    Of course it’s not an outright victory – and of course there is a lot more work to be done.
    However, it is a start, and a significant one.
    I don’t think anyone above commented on how many tories – MPs and Peers – actually voiced their opposition to the worst aspects of the Bill.
    Worth thinking about.