Trade Union Bill

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2016 National Delegate Conference
25 February 2016
Carried as Amended

Conference believes that the Trade Union Bill represents the biggest assault on working people’s rights in living memory, and an unashamed and deliberate attack on public sector trade unions in particular. The Bill affects almost every aspect of trade unionism in England, Wales and Scotland. It shifts the balance of power in workplaces further to the advantage of employers and away from workers, whether they are in a union or not. It is fundamentally an attack on core trade union activity: facility time, check-off of subs, and the ability of unions to underpin collective bargaining with a credible right to strike.

It subjects unions to unprecedented levels of civil and criminal penalties, red tape, and monitoring by the Certification Officer, paid for by a levy on trade unions. It curtails unions’ abilities to fund political activities and campaigns, within the Labour Party and wider civil alliances and groups. Conference notes that significant aspects of the Trade Union Bill’s reach remains yet to come, with government reserving large areas for secondary legislation.

Conference pays tributes to the efforts of UNISON members and branches who campaigned tirelessly to defeat the bill, delay its implementation, dilute its provisions and build a stronger union at every level. Conference notes the consistent and dedicated turnout by UNISON members at all levels of the campaign to defeat the bill, including the Manchester demo at Tory Party Conference as well as the mass lobby of Parliament where members made up over 1,000 of the 2,500 workers who took part. Effective pressure and compelling arguments made to employers and politicians were also vital in ensuring employers across the country speaking up against the Bill, including the Welsh and Scottish governments, local authorities across England, Wales and Scotland, NHS Human Resources directors and Police and Crime Commissioners. Effective pressure on Conservative MPs also forced the government to make key concessions. Without the work of members and the leadership shown by UNISON activists and representatives, the Bill/Act would undoubtedly have proven to be even more destructive than it is.

Conference believes that it now falls upon UNISON to lead the fight to challenge, resist and out-organise a hostile government at Westminster determined to use its new powers to prevent trade unions from fighting for the interests of working people.

Conference asserts that the right to strike is fundamental to a free and democratic society. The UK already has one of the most regulated systems of industrial action in the world, with unions having to comply with highly complex legal requirements. Conference believes that UNISON will have to organise, campaign and challenge the proposed new restrictions with all the resources of the union in our workplaces, in our communities and in the courts.

When the right to strike is undermined, so are the incentives for employers to listen to their workers, resolve disputes and engage in constructive relationships with workplace representatives. Conference believes that as a result of the Trade Union Bill industrial action will become more common, more heated, and more prolonged. Allowing employers to use agency workers to break strikes will not only further undermine workers rights and safety in the workplace, it will also damage working class solidarity. Conference calls on UNISON to campaign and organise to resist any such attempts by the government and employers to divide the workforce.

Conference notes that allowing union members to use secure electronic voting or workplace ballot boxes for industrial action ballots would increase participation in union democracy, particularly amongst younger members. Conference believes this exposes the government’s real agenda to disempower trade unions from fighting for decent pay and conditions for our members.

Conference notes that attacks on the deduction of trade union subs from wages in the public sector is an unconcealed attack on public sector trade unions. Conference notes that not a single public sector employer has spoken up in support of removing check-off.

Conference asserts that the government’s claims that check off is a burden on the public purse is similarly based on ideology rather than reality. Check-off is easy, efficient and very cheap to administer, and creates a transparent relationship between the employer and the union. Conference notes that UNISON further undermined this claim by showing that many branches already pay for the service and also by making an offer to ministers to pay for it in all remaining instances.

Similarly attacks are concealed by reserve powers to cap public sector facility time, in terms of hours and money spent as well as specific trade union activities. Facility time enables trade union representatives to carry out the vital role of representing individual union members, engaging in collective bargaining, working closely with employers to promote positive employment relations, keeping members informed, challenging discrimination, keeping workplaces safe and supporting workplace learning and education. UNISON must challenge any attempts by Ministers to cap facility time activities, but also to organise and campaign as never before to challenge discrimination and workplace injustice.

Conference notes that not content with attempting to weaken trade unions in the workplace, the government’s attack on trade union political funds attempts to weaken the political and campaigning voice of trade unions at local and national level. Conference believes this to be a blatant attempt to suppress democratic criticism.

Conference further notes that new powers given to the Certification Office will enable higher levels of scrutiny and interference in the work of trade unions, launched by complaints from third parties. Conference believes that this will leave trade unions highly vulnerable to political interference and represents a further attempt by the government to weaken any opposition within society to its anti-worker agenda.

Conference fundamentally believes that political attacks on trade union activities underlines the fundamental importance of strengthening the ability of trade unions to make employment rights and workplace justice a reality in workplaces across the country. If the damage sustained to workers rights is left unchallenged, poverty pay, workplace exploitation and job insecurity will simply become worse.

Conference therefore calls upon the National Executive Council to:

1)Continue to oppose the Trade Union Bill and any provisions that make it on the statute books;

2)Continue to defend facility time for stewards and ‘check-off’ facilities for members and develop new organisational strategies to ensure that recruitment and representation continue to be as effective as possible for all our members, and that the union can effectively continue to speak collectively for all our members;

3)Campaign to recruit more workplace stewards;

4)Strengthen workplace level bargaining and campaigning to tackle discrimination and workplace injustice;

5)Review existing arrangements for political campaigning to ensure that UNISON’s members’ voices are heard at local, regional and national level;

6)Continue to work with the TUC, Scottish TUC, Welsh TUC and Irish Congress of Trade Unions on building a workers’ movement for a just society;

7)Develop with the Institute of Employment Rights a positive charter of trade union and workers’ rights for the next government at Westminster.