Thursday, 5 May 2016

"Vindictive" Trade Union Bill Gets Go Ahead

A vindictive trade union bill gets Royal Assent after last night the House of Lords agreed to the final changes made by MPs last week - a bill seen as a direct political attack on rivals to the Tories, a party are largely backed by uncountable big business investors and secretive individuals, many of whom have had their shady dealings exposed in the Panama Papers leak.

The bill, which was first introduced in July 2015, has had a troubled journey through parliament, beset by widespread opposition, public protest, ridicule, Lords rebellions and government U-turns.

The determination and unrelenting campaigning of thousands of union members and their supporters, has meant that the bill has changed considerably from how it started out, but the Public Services and Commercial Services Union, who represent many workers in the Lancaster and Morecambe area, say the new law remains an unnecessary political attack on trade unions and still contains a number of extremely damaging measures.

Key changes include:

  • An independent review of electronic balloting for industrial action must now be conducted with a view to implementing electronic balloting shortly after its conclusion
  • Harsh political fund rules scrapped and the opt-in will now only to apply to new members
  • U-turn on check-off; it will remain as long as unions pay administrative costs
  • Dropping of extreme measures to restrict protesting, including proposals to give employers detailed picket line and social media information two weeks before industrial action
  • Safeguards in place before facility time cap can be introduced
  • Increasing strike mandates from four months originally proposed to six months, or nine months where the employer agrees.
  • Watering down of political fund reporting requirements
  • Certification officer guaranteed independence from ministerial influence.

Undemocratic strike ballot thresholds remain in place, which mean a 50% turnout will be required in order for any industrial action ballot to be valid. Some 'important public services' will face an additional hurdle of needing a 40% yes vote from all those eligible to vote.

The new law also includes worrying requirements to identify picket leaders at each picket line and Unions must now give 14 days notice (instead of 7) before taking industrial action. 7 days may still be allowed if the employer agrees.

The political fund will go from an opt-out to an opt-in system after a transition period of 12 months, potentially hitting parties aided by such support hard, such as Labour.

Facility time reporting (already in place in the civil service) will be required across public sector employers and Minister will be able to cap facility time after three years ; and
there will be an "increased role and power for the Certification Officer (the body which regulates unions) with unions now having to pay a levy to cover their running costs

Costly new reporting and administrative burdens also go into force, although these measures will not apply immediately as the secretary of state must first issue a 'commencement order' detailing when different parts of the act will come into force.

The PCS, along with other unions, has called on its members to fight harder than ever to ensure the new law does not damage its ability to campaign and defend members.

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