The Trade Union Bill currently before Parliament is unfair, unnecessary and undemocratic. MPs need to focus on the real problems the country faces and talk to us about how we can work together for a better future.

It’s time for the government to get its priorities straight – this Bill is an attack on the very people who could be part of the solution to the country’s problems

UNISON is campaigning with the TUC and other unions to oppose this attack on the rights of working people and their unions.


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The Trade Union Bill – how we campaigned for key changes

UNISON members across the UK played a part in protecting their trade union rights

UNISON welcomes government’s change of heart on Trade Union Bill proposals

Commenting on the debate today (Wednesday) in the Commons that has seen the government accept many of the Trade Union Bill amendments made last week in the Lords, UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Without these significant changes, unions representing working people across the UK would have found it hard to continue doing what they […]

The issue

We, the hard-working people providing public services in this country, need our MPs to focus on the real problems the country faces, not on waging irrelevant battles against unions.

Trade unions improve the UK for everyone  

UNISON and other trade unions are a fundamental part of UK society and have had a positive impact on all citizens through achievements like: a national minimum wage, the abolition of child labour, improved worker safety, improving living standards by reducing the number of hours in the working week and encouraging a healthy work/life balance, improved parental leave, equality legislation, minimum holiday and sickness entitlements.

We think MPs should give us the respect we deserve: stop fighting our right to be represented and supported; come and talk to us about how we can work together for a better future.

The use of agency workers during strikes undermines the right to strike and could make public services unsafe

Employers will be allowed to bring in agency workers when their employees are on strike, which undermines the right to strike and could impact on the safety and quality of the services normally provided by trained and qualified staff.

People need to be able to trust that staff providing services are properly trained and qualified, that may not be the case with people who are brought in for a day to replace striking staff. Not only will it put those agency workers in a difficult and stressful position as they are asked to cover a service in a workplace they are not familiar with, it may also compromise the safety of the services that are provided.

The Bill undermines the right to peaceful protest and could result in ASBOs for people on picket lines

When UNISON members protest during strikes they already comply with a detailed Code of Practice but the bill would allow the police to issue ASBOs to people on picket lines, it will give employers the ability to use an injunction to stop the protest, it will require a picket line organiser to wear an identifying badge or armband and be at the picket line at all times or contactable by the police at short notice, and it will require all activities to be announced at least 14 days in advance including details as specific as the words in Facebook posts.

Peaceful protest is an important part of an open and democratic society and there should be no place for a law that makes criminals of people making their voices heard in this way.

The Bill will impact on core union activities

The Bill will severely damage core union activities in the workplace through restrictions to facility time and removal of ‘check off’.

The Bill would restrict UNISON’s ability to campaign for social justice

The Bill will undermine UNISON’s ability to campaign on social justice issues – from large issues such as fair pay for public service workers, to local campaigns such as stopping hospital closures – by attacking our political funds. 

The bill undermines the right to strike

The bill subjects trade union members to unprecedented levels of civil and criminal penalties, regulations and technical and monitoring requirements that will effectively end the right to strike.

The option to go on strike is an important democratic right because, although it is only ever used as a last resort, it provides people with another opportunity to put pressure on their employers to solve disagreements.

When UNISON members vote to go on strike and lose a day’s pay it is always as the last resort. When asked how they felt about going on strike UNISON members say things like,“Unhappy that it had to come to this kind of action, but felt it was right to protect my standard of living”, “if it is absolutely necessary and all other means have not succeeded then willing to do so”, It’s a necessary evil. We shouldn’t have to go on strike, but it may be the only way to get things sorted”

Who's against the Bill?

Vince Cable

Former Business Secretary Vince Cable said the Bill marks a “vindictive, counterproductive” attack on trade unions, adding that it is “very provocative, highly ideological and has no evidence base at all”. In this joint statement Cable and TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady highlighted what could be done to strengthen, rather than disrupt, industrial relations:

“An opportunity is being missed to work with unions on a positive and forward-looking basis. Unions represent a substantial and, now, growing proportion of the workforce. Many good employers, private and public sector, work constructively with unions to raise productivity, and thence pay.”

The Regulatory Policy Committee, the independent body appointed by the government to scrutinise regulatory proposals

They called the government’s impact assessments of the trade union proposals ‘red – not fit for purpose’. The Committee found the government at fault for failing to adequately make the case for changes in the law on trade union picketing and protests, including the ruling that would make unions give 14 days’ advance notice of whether their members will use Twitter or Facebook during protests.

On the use of agency workers replacing striking workers the Committee found that the government’s impact assessment undermines its own central assumption, as “it provides reasons why it might be more beneficial to the employer to take the short-term costs associated with a strike instead of seeking temporary workers”. And on the government’s proposals to tackle intimidation of non-striking workers through strict picketing and protest laws, the Committee noted:

“There is little evidence presented that there will be any significant benefits arising from the proposal… the definition of the problem currently appears weak and must be substantiated, so that the costs of this measure can be assessed against benefits”.

The Police Federation

Have questioned the government proposals, noting that to “more intrusively supervise strikes” would add more pressure to the already overstretched police force:

“As we have seen in recent weeks, some forces may not even be able to investigate burglaries in future … This proposal for officers to more intrusively supervise strikes indicates more clearly than ever that what we need is a wide-ranging debate to inform both the future direction of the police service and the public’s expectations as to what we are able and simply unable to do.

Police officers join the job to keep the public safe and lock up criminals but doing that job effectively is getting close to impossible for many officers around the country.”

The London Assembly

They have agreed a motion that states that the government’s Trade Union Bill will undermine the rights of Londoners at work. Fiona Twycross AM, who proposed the motion said:

“Trade unions play an extremely important role in ensuring employees – and in particular those on low and middle incomes – receive fair pay and proper working conditions. With London remaining one of the most unequal cities in the world, it is essential that trade unions have a place at the negotiating table with employers. 

The Trade Union Bill risks significantly undermining Trade Union membership, which goes against the interests of employees and the general public. If the Mayor truly understood how modern trade unions work with employers to reduce inefficiencies and ensure unofficial and costly strike action is not a feature of industrial relations in London, he would oppose this Bill.”

Rt Hon Carwyn Jones, First Minister of Wales

Carwyn Jones condemned the Bill in a statement by the Welsh Government as having potential “to cause significant damage to the social and economic fabric of the UK”. The First Minister also raised concerns that agency worker proposals “will prove socially divisive, lead to more confrontational relationships between employers and workers, and ultimately undermine rather than support public services and the economy”. Commenting on the verdict of the Regulatory Policy Committee, the First Minister slammed the short-lived consultation period for the Bill. Jones said:

“[A] deeply worrying impression is created that the UK Government is simply not interested in evidence on the impact of these proposals.”

Concerns over devolutionary legitimacy were also raised, as the Bill is a ‘non-resolved matter’ yet would apply to ‘important public services’ such as health services, education (for under 17s) and fire services, “which are all plainly devolved”.

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon said who stated in her Programme for Government 2015/16 announcement earlier this month:

“…my government will vigorously oppose the UK government’s proposed trade union legislation, which seeks to undermine the rights of unions to fairly and reasonably represent their members”.

Roseanna Cunningham MSP, The Scottish government’s Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training

Labelling the Bill “an attack on workers”, Roseanna Cunningham MSP called the proposals “utterly regressive” and warned they could “completely undermine the positive partnership” the Scottish government has built up with trade unions “over a number of years”.


Amnesty International

The British Institute of Human Rights

All announced that the Trade Union Bill represents a “major attack on civil liberties in the UK” saying:

“By placing more legal hurdles in the way of unions organising strike action, the Trade Union Bill will undermine ordinary people’s ability to organise together to protect their jobs, livelihoods and the quality of their working lives.”

The Equality Trust

They warned the Bill poses a real threat to labour market equality:

“If the Bill reduces the strength of union membership, or removes the ability of unions to conduct industrial action, this may well reduce the bargaining power of unions. Given their importance in reducing inequality, this would be an extremely damaging development.”

Warning that the reforms are an “outdated response to the challenges of the modern workplace”, Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of leading HR professional body CIPD said:

“We need to see more consultation and ongoing dialogue, and engagement with, the workforce, rather than the introduction of mechanisms that reflect the industrial relations challenges of the 1980s. To jump straight to legislating strike activity without considering this seems to be a significant step back.”


The public

Polling from YouGov and the TUC  suggests more than three-quarters of the public think proposals to make it compulsory for unions to give 14 days’ notice if they intend to use a loudspeaker or carry a banner during a strike are a “bad use of police time”.

Vera Baird, Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner 

She criticised the Bill for its time-wasting proposals:

“I want local police officers out on the streets of Northumbria doing what they do best – protecting and supporting our communities, not arresting someone because unions haven’t given two weeks’ notice if they intend to use a loudspeaker or carry a banner during a strike… Why do the police need to know what unions are planning to post on social media during a strike two weeks in advance? It is a waste of police time.”

Dean Royles, Director of HR at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

He has recognised public frustration on “the impact of poor industrial relations,” but noted in his article for HR Magazine:

“[T]hose of us charged with providing regular, reliable, and safe public services know how finely balanced employee relations are. Many places in the public sector have taken a partnership approach to industrial relations, working with trade unions to make change in a reasoned, sensible way. This has paid dividends such as improved patient care, a better employee voice and staff engagement, as well as agreements on pay awards protecting lower paid employees.”

On the government’s proposals aimed at limiting strike opportunities, Royles signalled the risk posed to the quality of NHS services:

“… industrial relations are too important to the services we provide to let their future be shaped by rules aimed at overcoming poor examples.”

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

They have published analysis which found that trade unions are saving the NHS at least £100m every year.

Janet Davies, Chief Executive & General Secretary of the RCN has spoken out against the Bill:

“The government claims that the Trade Union Bill will save public sector money but it will actually have the opposite effect…The health service can ill-afford further damage to staff morale, or to squander even more money on recruitment costs. The trade union bill is bad for staff, employers and most importantly it is bad for patients.”

Over 100 academics

Academics from Universities across the UK slammed the Bill as “not backed by evidence” in a letter to the Guardian on 17 August. The academics described the provisions of the Bill as “draconian” and its rationale “perverse”. They noted the importance trade unions have in the economy and our democratic society:

“Trade unions in Britain are not too strong, but too weak. They provide an important voice for the expression and protection of workers’ terms and conditions of employment, and are a countervailing force against the excesses of employer power. They can also contribute to innovation, skills-upgrading and workplace performance. Given the fact the UK labour market is already one of the most flexible and least regulated in the global economy, evidence in support of the benefits of the bill is seriously wanting.

By further undermining the collective bargaining power of unions it will feed into the labour market by increasing endemic low pay and insecure terms and conditions of employment among non-unionised workers.”

Professor Miguel Martinez Lucio of Manchester University and the Fairness at Work Centre (FairWRC), who also signed the letter, added this in his response to the government consultation:

“[The Bill] represents one of the most serious assaults on human rights and worker rights in the democratic sphere of the UN. …In effect, it is to create an imbalanced relation and undermine the process of dialogue central to our society, and through industrial relations, our economy”.

Head of Policy at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation Kate Shoesmith

On proposals to allow agency workers to replace striking workers she told The Recruiter “We are not convinced that putting agencies and temporary workers into the middle of difficult industrial relations situations is a good idea for agencies, workers or their clients … Our members want to provide the best possible levels of service to their clients but they also have a duty of care to the workers they provide. We hope that the government’s consultation will ensure that the implications for all parties – employers, agencies and agency workers – can be evaluated.”

The National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA)

They told the government:

“We believe that citizens should be supported and encouraged to campaign as a way to hold the executive to account, prevent bad law making and improve government … This bill goes against the democratic traditions of our society… it does create an unfortunate impression that the Government is using their legislative power to silence dissenting voices.”

Workforce engagement organisation the IPA

They said the Bill was “unnecessary and potentially counterproductive in undermining good industrial relations”, and noted in their letter to government:

“IPA’s research and work with employers has shown that trade unions are essential actors in the labour market. They play a crucial role in ensuring corporate accountability in the UK by strengthening workplace democracy, and building more equitable, inclusive and sustainable workplaces.”

Citing risks associated with agency worker proposals, the IPA told the government:

“There is a risk that the quality of service or product will be affected, that health and safety will be compromised… Where the focus should be on improving management/trade union relationships following a dispute in order to avoid further disruption, the hiring of agency workers could further undermine the levels of trust required to do this.”

The Women’s Budget Group

They responded to the government consultation, stating aspects of the Bill are “likely to raise issues of concern for users of public services and in particular women”. The group added:

“[T]here has been insufficient thought given to the equality impact of these proposals and insufficient time allowed for meaningful consultation or public debate.”

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service

They have raised similar concerns, noting research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and BIS (the very same Department behind the Bill):

“‘Around one in nine mothers (11%) reported that they were either dismissed; made compulsorily redundant, where others in their workplace were not; or treated so poorly they felt they had to leave their job; if scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 54,000 mothers a year … It is clear that despite legislation designed to protect them, pregnant women and new mothers can find their rights at work threatened and may need support of their trade union to ensure they are able to secure financial stability for their family. Any restriction in relation to ballot thresholds may make it more difficult for a minority group in the workplace to secure support and take action, although they are among the groups most likely to be discriminated against at work.”

The Bill puts forward a number of proposals that would significantly limit workers’ and union rights and is set to have its second reading in the House of Commons next week. Meanwhile, a number of organisations have come out in praise of trade union contributions to workplaces across the country.

Dr David Bailey of Aston Business School, Leading academic and automotive industry expert

He commended the work of trade unions in the Birmingham Post:

“I would also add in another factor for the industry’s success – the flexibility and hard work of workers and unions in pulling out all the stops to help make the UK a competitive place in which to assemble cars and source components (something the media all too often fails to recognise).”

Terry Walker, former Chair of Avon Fire and Rescue Authority

He called on the government to “listen to those of us with experience as employers who have worked with Trade Unions” in his message passed onto the TUC last week:

“I served for 34 years as the Chair of Avon Fire Authority and employed a large number of staff within Avon Fire & Rescue Service. All of my experience tells me that instead of attacking Trade Unions, the government should be looking at measures which enhance the vital role that Unions play within the workplace.

In my frontline experience as an employer, I have seen the real benefits and value that can be gained by organisations working in partnership with Trade Unions. There is absolutely no doubt that, by working in partnership with the Fire Brigades Union, we were able to make Avon Fire & Rescue Service a better, safer and fairer service for staff and the public which we served.”