The TUC is organising a rally and lobby of parliament on 2 November from 1pm at Central Hall, Storey’s Gate, Westminster, London, SW1H 9NH and is encouraging anyone who can't attend to write to their MP. You can see resources and background information about the bill on its website.
Prospect will refund travel and subsistence costs if you can make the journey to London and book an appointment with your MP.
For advice and information, please email Graham Stewart, Prospect's parliamentary and campaigns officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prospect has raised many concerns about the Trade Union bill in its response to the government consultation on three aspects – strike ballot thresholds for people in “important” public services; hiring agency staff during industrial action; and intimidation of non-striking workers.
The union also opposes the bill’s aims to:
- limit the check-off system for collecting union subs direct from salary
- make members opt into rather than out of contributing to union political funds, and reballot every five years
- limit facility time for union reps in the public sector
- increase the seven-day notice period for industrial action to 14 days
- increase reporting requirements to the certification officer and give the CO new investigatory powers and the ability to fine unions.
The bill will require at least 50% of relevant union members to vote in a ballot for a strike to go ahead and impose an even higher threshold for industrial action in important public services.
Prospect head of legal Marion Scovell condemned the extra restrictions for workers in public services – requiring at least 40% of everyone “eligible” to vote to also back action.
These threaten the fundamental right to strike, which is safeguarded by international law, including International Labour Organisation conventions, the European Social Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights.
She warned this measure could “lead to satellite litigation around the validity of a ballot” and therefore “worsen industrial relations and prolong disputes”.
Scovell stressed: “Our members in the public sector are highly dedicated and will only take action when they believe there is no other option.”
Prospect also challenges the government’s refusal to allow electronic/online balloting, which would improve participation.
Current regulations ban the use of agency workers to cover the jobs of people on strike. The bill would repeal this, even though the ILO says using agency workers, other than in an “essential” sector, would be “a serious violation of freedom of association”.
Scovell said agency workers risked not getting further work if they refused such placements and would have no statutory protection.
Pickets and protests
Prospect believes existing criminal and civil provisions are more than enough to deal with incidents of intimidating behaviour on picket lines, which are “extremely rare”.
Scovell said: “It is extraordinary to propose new offences that could only apply to trade union protests.”
Instead, sanctions should be available against employers who seek to intimidate union members from taking industrial action, Prospect argues.
The bill will require picket supervisors to wear an armband or badge, show a letter of authorisation to the police or public and provide their names. Unions failing to comply face fines of up to £20,000.
This is unreasonable, says Prospect. Asking unions to publish their intended use of social media during a dispute is also “ludicrous” – again, this would not apply to employers.
In September, MPs backed the bill by 33 votes at its second reading, despite criticism from across the political spectrum.
The bill is now under scrutiny by the House of Commons public bill committee on the trade union bill.
Conservative MP David Davis told Sky News that while he agreed with most of the bill, some bits “look OTT, like requiring pickets to give their names to the police force. What is this? This isn’t Franco’s Britain, this is Queen Elizabeth II’s Britain”.
Former business secretary Vince Cable called the bill “vindictive” and without any evidence base.
The independent Regulatory Policy Committee, set up by the government to reduce red tape, said the proposals on agency workers, public service thresholds and the 14-day notice period were “not fit for purpose”.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said days lost to strikes had dropped by more than 90% in the last 20 years. The bill seemed to be “targeting yesterday’s problem”.