News & Views

Stormy seas ahead for the Trade Union Bill

BY Paman Singh
Employment law
BG Purple

It seems as though employment law is an endless resource for government to play with and to mould, as is their wont.

The Trade Union Bill, decried by opponents as a “draconian piece of legislation” has proven to be highly controversial. It has been criticised by Liberty, Amnesty International and the former Conservative shadow home secretary, David Davis. 

Having passed its second reading, the Bill is being considered by a committee where MPs look at the Bill and can make amendments to it. This process is scheduled to end by no later than 27th October 2015. It is expected that some proposals, such as forcing unions to tell the police, employers and regulators about future Twitter and Facebook messages that they intend to post two weeks in advance, will be quietly dropped.

However some of the other, more robust, proposals will be kept in. Whitehall insiders have stated that the Conservatives will not compromise over plans to increase the threshold for strike action. Under the Bill, trade unions would have to secure the support for a strike of more than 50% of those entitled to vote, as opposed to a straight majority of those who actually vote.

Len McCluskey, General Secretary of the Unite union has indicated in a letter to the Prime Minister that he is willing to accept the minimum 50% turnout threshold in exchange for allowing online voting, as opposed to the current practice of postal votes. This was, however, rejected with the Prime Minister stating that a commission looking at the possibility of electronic voting had found that the system could be open to fraud.

North of the border, there has been an unprecedented response, whereby all 32 Scottish councils have confirmed that they will refuse to implement the proposals if and when the Bill becomes law. The effect this will have on policing any contraventions of the Bill if it is enacted is currently unclear given that the Holyrood government is seeking to have trade union and employment law devolved from Westminster.

And finally, like plots for all good Hollywood scripts, the twist. The Conservatives have announced plans to launch their own trade union movement.  They believe that it will provide a platform for “moderate trade unionists” who feel that they’re not being represented by “militant trade union leaders”.  Needless to say the unions have been quick to respond to this development, calling it a “shallow gimmick without any foundation or basis in reality”.

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