Government backs down on check-off ban

Reason and sound argument force government climb down on check-off

Prospect has welcomed the government’s climb down on plans to impose a blanket ban on check-off across the public sector

The Trade Union bill as drafted would have banned check-off across the whole of the public sector, including local authorities, the health service and the education sector.

Lord Bridges of Headley, Cabinet Office parliamentary secretary, announced the move in the House of Lords on 19 April saying:

“One of the many lessons I have learned is that when Ministers stand at this Dispatch Box and face cannons to the right of them, cannons to the left of them, cannons in front of them – and maybe even behind them – it is usually best to pause and to ask the reason why. Uncomfortable though this may be, it is nothing like as uncomfortable as charging on.”

During the debate the government accepted amendments tabled by the Lords that check-off will still be available where the employer agrees to it and the union is prepared to pay the administration costs.

Mike Clancy, Prospect's general secretary said: “Yesterday’s result was a good one for the trade union movement. It shows that good lobbying, reason and sound arguments can make a difference.

“Because of work done by unions and challenges from MPs and Lords across the political spectrum, we now have very significant changes to the bill.

“Although these changes are welcome, the lobbying work continues. The bill goes back to the Commons for further consideration so there is still time to write to your MP asking them to vote for the Lords’ amendments.”

The government also made further concessions on the increased role of the Certification Officer, the levy on the unions and relaxed its stance on allowing electronic balloting.

The TUC’s touchstone blog “Trade Union Bill takes a battering in the Lords” lists the government defeats through the Parliamentary process.

In addition to yesterday’s U-turn on check-off, we are likely to see a number of other amendments. These include relaxing some of the worst excesses of the Bill including:

  • the proposed restrictions on pickets and protests
  • limiting facility time for union reps
  • extending the new 40% in favour rule on industrial action balloting to ancillary workers in essential public services
  • reviewing the proposals on unions’ political funds.

Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, said: “We are delighted the government has listened and backed away from ending check-off in the public sector. Today’s decision is the result of months of union and TUC lobbying – and we are glad of the support from peers of all parties and none.”

Download a Prospect briefing on the latest state of play.