Fight the Trade Union Bill November 2015

Liz Meerabeau, Vice Chair of Kingston & Surbiton CLP, writes about the Anti Trade Union Bill Rally and a meeting with James Berry MP at which CLP members – including trade union leaders – described the real effects the Bill might have on employer – employee relationships. We were pleased that James Berry MP took the time to come to 160 London Road to listen to the briefing prior to the Report  and Final Stage of the Bill which takes place 10th November 2015.

Having passed a motion at the All Member CLP meeting (see below), the local Party has taken action to put the motion into practice

At least five members of Kingston and Surbiton CLP- Greta Farian, Johnnie Byrne, John McGhee, Tony Kearns and Liz Meerabeau- attended the anti-Trade Union Bill rally in Central Hall, Westminster on 2nd November and heard many inspiring speakers. The hall was packed, with many trade unionists having to wait outside.

Although we were not able to see our MP, James Berry, on that date, Greta Farian and Simon Ayre met him previously to discuss the Bill and four of us (JB, JM, TK and LM) met him on 9th November. At that meeting, we gave detailed examples of how the current system works, how the proposals in the Bill will cut across this, souring the good working relationships that currently exist, and how employer bodies have expressed concerns. We reminded James Berry that there are already restrictions on the number in a picket, and that the government seem to have confused pickets and demonstrations. We also referred to the criticisms of the Bill from human rights organisations.

Among the many outrageous aspects of this Bill is the fact that it is simply being railroaded through – the next reading will be on 10th November, the day after the consultation ends. How can consultation that ends on the 9th November be incorporated into a Bill before Parliament for its Report Stage and Final Stage on 10th November? Clearly no value is being put on consultation.

The Trade Union Bill, if it becomes law, will further damage the work of unions, already affected by the 2014 Lobbying Act which puts onerous burdens on trade unions to ensure their membership records are pristine and restricts the right to lobby during election times (but fails to regulate lobbying from business interests). It will:

  • Make it harder to vote for industrial action, particularly in essential services and in the public sector. The government is setting a threshold much higher than in other voting situations, and is refusing to allow secure electronic balloting. Since abstentions will be counted as votes against, non-voters will have an undue weight
  • Require 14 days’ notice of planned industrial action
  • Allow employers to use agency staff to cover strikes. In many sectors this will be unsafe
  • Require individual members to pay their subs directly to the union (it will be illegal for public sector organisations to operate the check-off, or payroll deduction), thus increasing bureaucracy. Precise wording on this was made available only in the last two weeks
  • Restrict campaigning, e.g. by requiring 14 days’ notice of social media campaigns
  • Increase police supervision of picket lines and the risk of blacklisting for picketing, as stewards and picketers will be more identifiable
  • Cap facilities time and require detailed accounting for it. The former chief executive of NHS Employers has said how much money the NHS saves through the current work of its union reps. At the rally, Matt Wrack of the FBU reminded us that facilities time had been needed to investigate what went wrong in a catastrophic fire in which firemen died.

Speakers at the rally included Frances O’Grady, Paul Maloney (Southern Region Secretary, GMB), Sheila Hassan (President, Society of Radiographers), Jon Skewes (Director of Policy, RCM- the RCM is a recent affiliate, and midwives went on strike in 2014/15 for the first time in 130 years), Jill Barker (Chartered Society of Physiotherapy), Matt Wrack (General Secretary, FBU), Dave Ward (General Secretary, CWU and a K&S CLP member), Barbara Plant (GMB member), Natalie Linder (RCM member featuring in the new TUC poster campaign), Joanne Harris (Unite member), Eleanor Smith (Unison member), Liz Snape (Unison and TUC President), Len McCluskey (GS, Unite), Sally Hunt (GS, University and College Union), Christine Blower (GS, NUT), Mark Holding (Assistant GS, ATL), Jim Quigley (AGS, NASUWT), Megan Dunne (President, NUS), Dave Prentis (GS, Unison) and John Hannet (USDAW). Andy Vickers from the Police Federation was also present, although they are not affiliated to the TUC.

Shami Chakrabarti reminded us that Liberty was founded in 1934 after hunger marchers were attacked by the police, and said that we should be alert to attempts to divide and rule- ‘unions versus the public’.

Stephen Cavalier, from Thompsons Solicitors, stated that the Bill is unlawful, unwarranted, and unworkable, and the proposal on agency workers breaches ILO provisions. In a recent YouGov poll, 65% of respondents did not support it, nor does the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), the industry body representing employment agencies. The Regulatory Policy Committee, made up of economists, has said that it is not fit for purpose.

Even the Financial Times has criticised the government for ‘crossing the road to pick a fight with the unions’, and several speakers referred to David Davis’s view that the restrictions on picket lines were worthy of Franco’s government. Vince Cable has said that the Bill is unnecessary, and it has been condemned by Amnesty International for infringing human rights.

Frances O’Grady (Observer, 1.11.2015) believes that women will be disproportionately affected by the Bill, since nearly three quarters of the workforce in the ‘important public services’ with the highest strike ballot thresholds is female.

Lastly, Andy Parsons of ‘Mock the Week’, an Equity Member, suggested that if it is so important for Sajid Javid to know unions’ social media plans two weeks in advance, we should all let him know what we plan to write on social media, at #sajidjavidwantstoknow. And let him know what we are emailing. And leave a message on his voicemail. And if he wants to know who is calling, the answer- of course- is ‘Spartacus’.