Banning union membership would “leave workers open to countless abuses” – TUC 

PM considered union ban for thousands of key staff – according to leaked emails

9 Jan 2023| News

Leaked internal messages between senior civil servants have been described as potentially ‘the biggest attack on workers’ rights and freedoms’ for generation’. The leaked messages show that the Prime Minister contemplated banning Border Force staff from trade union membership under the anti-strike legislation announced by Business Secretary last Thursday.

As reported by the Guardian, the emails (drawn up by officials and lawyers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)) presented three models for Sunak to consider to form the Government’s anti-strike laws.

The first, described as a “police service ban on striking” advocated “Border Force staff banned from joining a trade union” with striking or “inciting disaffection” to become a criminal offence.

The second model, a “prison service-style ban on striking”, would replicate restrictions on prison officers who are also banned from industrial action with possible concessions such as a pay review body. The Prison Officers Association (POA) represent prison officers, but have been unable to strike since 1994. Section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act makes it unlawful for anyone to “induce a prison officer to take industrial action.”

The third option was legislation to enforce “minimum service levels” in public sectors such as the NHS, the railways and the fire service, with employers able to sue unions and sack staff if minimum standards are not met. It is expected that a Bill outlining this ioption will be published this week.

All three were put to Downing Street last month with the emails revealing that “we [senior BEIS officials] do not yet have a firm view on the preferred model from PM”.

The Guardian reports:

“The emails, however, show that the most extreme model – banning workers from trade union membership – was rejected only because it might “be difficult to justify” because the European Convention on Human Rights guaranteed UK workers the right to join a union.

Because of this, civil servants felt the minimum service levels model was their “preferred option”.”

Mark Serwotka, General Secretary of PCS, covering Border Force staff, said:

“These emails reveal that while the government publicly is saying: ‘We want to resolve the dispute’, behind the scenes they were preparing the biggest attacks on fundamental rights and freedoms that we would have seen in this country for generations.”

Commenting on information published on Saturday, TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak said:

“Being able to join a union at work is a basic and universal human right. It speaks volumes that government ministers have even contemplated the outright banning of union membership and the right to take strike action. It would leave working people open to countless abuses.

Even the government’s own advice suggests imposing minimum service levels on workers taking part in strike action may be illegal. We need a complete change of approach in Downing Street – one that respects the right of workers to join unions and take strike action in the face of real terms pay cuts.”