Trade Union Reform Bill 2nd Reading on Monday 14th September
Sheffield Trade Union Council urges all MPs – including Conservatives – to speak up and vote against the Tories’ so-called Trade Union Reform Bill when it has its second reading in Parliament tomorrow, Monday 14th September.
“This Government is trying to rush through the biggest ever attack on our trade union rights” said Martin Mayer, Sheffield TUC Secretary today. “We should be absolutely clear this is an ideological attack on the fundamental rights of workers to organise in free trade unions; to engage in collective bargaining to raise living standards of working people; to take strike action when in dispute with their employers; and for unions to have a political voice”.
The Bill, which sets undemocratic voting thresholds for strike action which are considered illegal under international law, also contains a whole range of other measures designed to make legal strike action almost impossible in this country. It will greatly increase the power of the state to interfere in the internal affairs of trade unions and sets fines for failing to comply with a whole range of new requirements, and make it much more difficult for trade unions and their members to have a political voice – with the clear intention to cripple the funding of the Labour Party.
”This Bill is the brainchild of anti-trade union ideologues in the Tory Party who hate unions and who dream of a union-free society in which workers have no say, no organisation and no rights. It’s all part of a plan to create a low wage capitalist economy in which big business can make super profits whilst working class people see their living standards in free-fall” said Martin Mayer.
The Bill’s measures include:
- New undemocratic voting thresholds before a strike can be legal, notably requiring a 50% turnout – no other democratic vote in our society requires this – not even voting for our MPs! Police and Crime Commissioners were elected on 14% turnouts!
- In essential public services like transport, energy, health etc, 40% of the union members must positively vote for strike action. This is considered illegal in international law as it counts abstentions as no votes.
- New requirements to specify on the ballot paper exactly what form of strike action is to take place and to give employers 2 weeks’ notice of any action. When and how often to strike is a decision that should be made as now after the ballot result is declared and dependent on the employer’s response. Unions won’t be able to “suspend industrial action” due to fresh talks without invalidating the ballot!
- Employers to be permitted to use agency workers to break strikes – a sure way of inflaming any dispute. This is why this was banned by the Labour Government in the 1970’s. This too will break international law if agency workers are forced to cross picket lines against their will.
- New tough criminal laws will apply to picketing that are designed to be difficult to adhere to. Unions must appoint a lead picket who must wear an identifying armband and carry a letter of authorisation which must be produced to ANYONE who asks for it. He/she could be made criminally responsible for any trouble.
- The union must declare its intention in advance of any use of social media e.g. facebook and twitter and declare any plans of protests, demonstrations etc. Failure to comply accurately can lead to undisclosed fines.
- The Trade Union Ombudsman will have new powers to investigate unions without having to wait for a complaint. He will be able to enter any union building and demand any internal document or computer records and does not have to give a reason. Unions will have to submit to him annual reports of all industrial action ballots and strikes. He can levy undisclosed fines for failure to comply. And the trade unions will have to pay a levy to cover the costs of his office!
- All the above can be used as more grounds by employers to seek injunctions to halt disputes that are democratically supported by the members. Injunctions are already widely used by employers on spurious technical grounds to stop disputes – this will give them even more scope.
- The Government will have powers to force any public sector employer (local Authority, NHS etc) to stop check-off of union dues and withdraw facility time for elected trade union representatives. It’s pretty clear their opposition to collective bargaining with trade unions!
- Individual members must sign a letter every five years to say they agree to pay into the union’s political fund. This new opt-in system is designed to curtail the unions’ political voice – and cripple funding to the Labour Party.
“Trade Unions are an essential part of a free and democratic society” said Martin Mayer. “This Bill is as near as it comes to banning trade unions in this country. A massive national TUC-led campaign is mobilising to Kill the Bill!”