Peers amend Trade Union Bill to be less punitive to unions

05 February 2016 Further amendments have been made to the Trade Union Bill across parties, with the intention largely to weaken legislation that would be overly punitive toward trade unions.

5 Feb 2016| News

05 February 2016

Further amendments have been made to the Trade Union Bill across parties, with the intention largely to weaken legislation that would be overly punitive toward trade unions.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Liberal Democrat, has proposed that the support threshold for strike ballots in the public sector should be lowered from 40% to 25%.

Elsewhere, Labour’s Lord Mendelsohn and Collins of Highbury amended the Bill to provide more flexibility for employers and unions to negotiate terms amenable to both parties.

For instance:

  • Voting papers: The Trade Union Bill attempts to prescribe what must be included on voting papers, but the Lords argue employers and unions should be able to agree this between themselves. The paper would then be scrutinised by an independent body, after which it could not be changed;
  • Ballot outcomes: Rather than trade unions having to meet prescribed details when as to informing members eligible to vote in a ballot as to the outcome of that vote; the Lords have changed the language to say they must take “reasonable” measures to ensure members are kept well informed;
  • Reporting industrial action: The Lords intend to oppose the proposal for trade unions to report details of industrial action to the Certification Officer in their annual report;
  • Notice period for industrial action: The Trade Union Bill prescribes a two-week notice period before industrial action can take place, but the Lords intend to soften this regulation by adding that this does not apply if the union and employer have previously agreed the period during which action would take place;
  • Expiry of ballots in favour of industrial action: The Tories wish to legislate so that a ballot in favour of industrial action expires after four months and must be taken again, but the Lords propose that at the three-month mark employers and unions may agree between themselves to extend the validity of the ballot vote beyond that point instead of taking it again. They also argue that if industrial action is expected to last for longer than four months, these regulations should not apply;
  • Picket supervisor: Lord Collins of Highbury has proposed an amendment that the picket supervisor does not have to provide his or her name to the police and that only the employer (or an agent of the employer) is entitled to see the supervisor’s letter of authorisation;
  • Political fund: The Conservatives would like to see all trade union members forced to opt-in rather than opt-out (as is the current agreement) from any political levy. This would be extended to members who already pay the levy and they would be required to provide written notice of their intention to opt-in within three months of the Bill passing. The opt-in would expire after four years, when members would be expected to renew their opt-in. Lords Mendelsohn and Collins of Highbury have amended the Bill to state that only new applicants will be affected by the expected to opt-in; the opt-in will be valid for ten years; and that notice does not need to be provided in writing and can be managed electronically. They intend to exempt campaigns relating to discrimination against groups (such as campaigns against anti-Semitism), campaigns against a particular political party, and campaigns encouraging people to vote in elections as being seen as political expenditure, arguing this should come from another union fund. They argue that the floor on reporting political expenditure should be raised from £2,000 to £50,000. Both Lords have also highlighted their intention to oppose the inclusion of the new political levy rules in the Bill.

Baroness Wheeler and Lord Collins of Highbury also intend to oppose the removal of check-off systems for paying union subs, or failing this have said that a code of practice should be issued for check-off instead, which states that employers and unions must provide the option of other means of paying subs.

Lord Campbell-Savours, another Labour peer, added that members should receive tax relief on any political levy they opt into.

Amendments from Tory peer Lord Leigh of Hurley acted to make the Bill more punitive by removing the word “important” from “important public services”. We have argued that this should be rephrased as “essential public services” and relate only to services the disruption of which could hinder the health or safety of part or the whole of the population (in according with ILO guidelines), but Lord Leigh’s amendments would limit strike action broadly across all public services.

Lastly, Lords Mendelsohn and Collins of Highbury have proposed an amendment to the commencement of the political levy rules to five years after it has been passed, preventing the new on the political levy regulations from damaging Labour’s next election campaign.

The amended Bill will now be put in front of the House of Lords at Committee Stage, which is scheduled for Monday 08 February. All of the Lords’ amendments have now been collated here.

Protect the right to strike: Kill the Bill – just £5!

The Conservative Government’s proposed strike ballot thresholds: The challenge to trade unions – just £6!