17 September 2015
The Trade Union Bill passed its second reading by 33 votes on Monday.
It’s been described as “vindictive” and “unnecessary” by former business secretary Vince Cable, a “major attack on civil liberties” by a litany of human rights groups, and like something out of Franco’s dictatorship by Conservative MP David Davis. Yet this widespread condemnation has done nothing to abate the wind in the sails of the Tory leadership on their ideological crusade.
Angela Eagle, impressive in her new role as shadow business secretary, succinctly summarised the bill as “the most significant sustained and partisan attack on 6 million trade union members and their workplace organisations that we have seen in this country in the past 30 years”.
“With the number of days lost to strike action down 90% in the past 20 years, there is no need whatsoever to employ the law in this draconian way”, she said.
One among many voicing their indignation at the bill, Caroline Lucas MP said that Javid is “pretending that the Bill is about democracy rather than being a vindictive attack on working people”. She rightly asked; “If it is really about democracy and opening things up, why is he not lifting the ban on unions balloting online and in the workplace, which would be precisely the way to make a modern democracy work?”.
Javid’s defence of the bill was feeble when faced with castigation from the opposition benches.
The Bill provides that:
• “Unlawful” or “Intimidatory” picketing will become a criminal, rather than civil, offence. A named official will be required to oversee the picket.
• The government will have the power to limit facility time
• Unions will have to renew any strike mandate every four months
• A strike will be unlawful unless 50 percent of those asked will have to vote in a ballot. In public services, health, education, fire, transport, border security, and energy sectors, 40 percent of all those asked will have to vote in favour.
• Unions will be required to give employers at least two weeks notice before the commencement of industrial action
• Employers will have the right to employ strike breaking agency staff
• The government certification officer will be able to fine unions as much as £20,000 for breached of reporting rules, including an annual audit on protests and pickets. The certification officer will have the power to initiate investigations, and will be in part funded by the unions themselves.
• All unions will have to ask their members to opt-in to the political levy every five years.
In his speech to TUC conference this week, Corbyn pointed out the the Bill is not simply an attack on Trade Unions, but one on civil liberties in general. He said;
“It gives us the opportunity to defend civil liberties and traditional freedoms and explain to the wider public, beyond trade unions and others, that it is actually a threat to the liberties of all of us. Because, by calling into question the right of free association of trade unions, they are actually in contravention in my view of article 11 of the European convention on human rights … They are threatening the right of peaceful protest by looking to criminalise picketing. They are even threatening the right to free speech by seeking to limit what a union member can say on social media during a dispute … If they get it through, it’s a damage to the civil liberties of everybody in our society and they will use it as platform to make other attacks on other sections of our community”.
However, the fight against the bill is not over yet. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said; “The record books will show that this government’s first major act in office has been to attack the right to strike – a fundamental British liberty”.
“While tonight’s vote is very disappointing, the campaign against this bill is far from over”.
“We will continue to oppose it at each stage through Parliament. And it was good to hear MPs from across the house recognise the huge threat this bill poses to civil liberties and fair treatment at work.”
“Ministers have underestimated the public. People can see that allowing employers to bus in agency temps to break strikes will tip the balance of power in favour of employers”.
“And requiring unions to report to the police and employers what they will post on Facebook or Twitter two weeks before a strike is an obvious waste of police time.”
Find out how your MP voted, and call them out, here.