Victoria Phillips is head of employment rights at Thompsons Solicitors
The Thompsons Solicitors Weekly Blog
The government’s targeting of trade unions by the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trades Union Administration Bill is, as Frances O’Grady of the TUC said at last weekend’s Tolpuddle Martyr’s Festival, an outrageous attack on the largest democratic movement in this country.
Listening to Norman Tebbit being interviewed by Peter Hennessey on the Radio Four programme Reflections, I was struck – not for the first time – by how David Cameron is seeking to go further than Tebbit and Thatcher for completely unformed and incoherent ideological reasons.
I don’t seek to excuse or support Tebbit’s anti-union sentiments and the pride with which he looks back on his industrial relations and trade union law reforms. But at least he put them in a hard, political context. Union leaders had, as he saw it, overthrown two government’s before Thatcher’s and he wasn’t going to allow that to happen again. His predecessor at employment, Jim Prior, had taken a conciliatory approach and everything Tebbit did was, he said, constructed around the belief that this wasn’t the right tactic.
By comparison, Cameron’s proposed reforms to the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 are just vindictive.
Their purpose is to give “the general public” (as if trade union members are not members of the public) confidence that voting papers and other communications are reaching union members “so that they have the opportunity to participate, even if they choose not to exercise it”.
This is despite the fact that section 24(1) of the Act already requires unions to maintain a register of members’ names and addresses that is, so far as reasonably practicable, accurate and up-to-date.
The detail of the proposed reforms is complex – annual membership audits, new Certification Officer powers, enforcement orders, a requirement for unions with over 10,000 members to appoint an assurer, self-certification for smaller unions and exemption for new unions. It’s the very opposite of the Red Tape Challenge.
Oh what a laugh they must have had in Cabinet with that one.
At the most recent Unions21 steering committee (Tuesday), a new work stream on union influence on politics was initiated. Watch this space.
A survey using a large questionnaire of 240 questions has been reduced to 48 questions by the Nudge Unit at number 10 Downing Street. The original design was by an American not-for-profit organisation, who at first objected to the way it was used by the Nudge Unit.
The purpose of this survey is to analyse the answers given by unemployed people, in an attempt to improve their chances of getting a job by showing them evidence of their positive strengths. This has provoked criticism of the Nudge Unit for creating a “nanny state”, which does not fit well current government ideology. Read More…
TRADE union activity at the Coalition party conferences is a useful index of how others see us.
The diminution of union power over recent decades has largely removed organised labour from the Tory and Lib Dem political agenda, but we (I say “we”, I’m a union man) still have a presence on the fringe. Out of sight, but not quite out of mind.
Some unions – the teachers NUT and NASUWT in particular, and occasionally the TUC itself – have stands in the exhibition halls, giving away publicity and free pens.
But the parties themselves? After a long shlep round the Brighton Centre, ducking and diving among the energy company stands, I found the Association of Liberal Democrat Trade Unionists.
It consisted of two retired men in a booth so small that one of them had to get up if the other wanted to get out. But they were voluble in their praise for unions, and had some good material to hand out on the controversial issue of regional pay – which they oppose. Read More…
Louise Raw is Director of the forthcoming Matchwomen’s Festival, Saturday July 6th 2013
Politicians tend to use history in the manner of the proverbial drunk and the lamp-post – more for support than illumination.
The Tories are particular offenders, claiming ownership of their mythical version of the British past, a muddle of green and pleasant landed gentry, scones, warm beer, the Queen and Winston Churchill.
It is in this tradition that David Cameron has gone all Posh Robin Hood on us and announced that he wants to ‘spread privilege’.
This, of course, makes no sense on several levels; not least because privilege is by definition unfair and exclusive, a golden ticket available only to the elite, often dependant on accident of birth.
In a message sent via Unions Together the organisation representing the 15 Labour Party affiliated unions, Chuka Umunna MP calls on union members to lobby their local MP to vote against attacks on employment rights.
He writes: “Tomorrow the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats are launching their latest assault on the British worker and we urgently need your help to defeat a bill that could adversely affect the lives of millions of people.
Vince Cable and the Tory-led government will bring their Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (ERR) Bill back to the House of Commons to try and turn it into Law.
I need your help right now to make sure as many MPs as possible vote against the ERR bill tomorrow.
Stacey Gray is President of NASUWT Cornwall
Ahead of the Secretary of State for Education’s Speech to Conservative Party Conference at 1200, Stacey Gray writes for UnionHome.
Teachers are dedicated, students are hard working and their parents offer quiet but endless support: the result is constantly improving examination grades. However, this year was different. This year saw numerous exams and exam boards changing grade boundaries, and for the first time, a slump in the exam grades that GCSE students have achieved.
You may have seen the media coverage that centred on the English GCSE examinations but it was not the only subject affected. History, geography, French and Spanish to name just a few. The subject choices are moulded on Gove’s understanding of a ‘good education’ – one that was created during his own public schooling – how very comprehensive.
1. Rights for Shares
Under the scheme announced in the Chancellor’s speech, employers would be able to offer “employee-owner” status to new recruits or existing members of staff. The employee-owners would receive between £2,000 and £50,000 worth of shares, which would be exempt from Capital Gains Tax when they are eventually sold.
In return, staff will give up rights including the ability to claim unfair dismissal after two years in a job; the right to statutory redundancy payments; and the statutory right to request flexible working or time to train. Employee-owners will have to provide 16 weeks notice to bosses of their intent to return from parental leave after the birth of a child – double the eight weeks required from other staff.
Unfair dismissal claims will remain possible in a few exceptional circumstances, such as when dismissal is linked to the national minimum wage or to an employee’s refusal to work on a Sunday. Businesses will remain free to offer contractual redundancy pay, flexible working and time off to train to employee-owners if they choose to. (Express & Star)
Reaction: Policy unravelling
2. Facility Time
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude announced that civil servants will no longer be allowed to spend more than half of their paid time on trade union work, unless they have special exemption from the secretary of state or their chief executive.
In addition, each department will face a limit on how much of the pay bill can be spent on trade union activities. Departments will be able to spend 0.1% of their pay bill on trade union representation, including time for health and safety and union learning representatives. (Personnel Today)
Unison reaction: Effective and engaged union representation saves the public purse between £170m and £400m a year.
Chris Ball wrote for the Unions21 publication: The Generation Game, Does Age Matter?
At some point during the Conservative conference, the issue of working longer before retirement may come up. (How could it not with George Osborne deciding that £10 billion of additional welfare cuts will have to be found?)
There are several reasons to doubt that it would be easy to deal with the debt crisis by pushing up state pension age more quickly however. Yet, as this approach is being followed in several other European countries we should be ready for it. One argument which will be used will be the increasing ageing of society.
Sadly, at present the naïve idea that demographic change means we can automatically look forward to years of working longer is going largely unchallenged. Demographic change alone cannot possibly determine our ability to work.
Today’s news reports suggest that the burden of further cuts will fall on the working age poor and on the face of it – the young. The Guardian says that first targets are likely to include housing benefits for the under 25s and removing extra benefits from claimant parents who have an additional child.
George Osborne has been criticised by unions representing millions of workers in private firms and the public sector.
The Chancellor took a confrontational approach to unions in his opening words to Conservative Party Conference today: “In 1972 when a Conservative Prime Minister two years into office was faced with economic problems, and over-powerful unions – we buckled, we gave up. The result was higher inflation, more strikes and the three day week. A decade later in 1981 when another Conservative Prime Minister two years into office were faced with economic problems and powerful unions, we did not give up, but pressed on and overcame. Today in the face of the great economic challenges of our age, we will press on.”
The political conference season has so far been highly successful for unions: From the defeat of regional pay in a vote by Liberal Democrat delegates, to coalition building motions on housing, child poverty and a national investment bank – and a rule change on selecting more working class candidates to be MPs, at Labour.
Though there will be some opportunities presented by the Conservative Party conference, it will be for the most part a time to assess some of the threats facing unions and their members. The TUC rally on Sunday coinciding with the conference will be an important prelude to the national demonstrations against austerity in London and Glasgow on Saturday 20th October.