While the Tory Zombie government gave up months ago trying to legislate in the Commons, their attack on trade unions’ right to collect subs by check-off gathers pace.
We’ve had confirmation this week that in the remaining weeks before the General Election the Tories will try to force the end of check-off in the civil service.
The Home Office and Department for International Development have already removed check-off. Despite objections from opposition frontbenchers, HMRC continues to insist on the removal of check-off facilities. Next month before the general election, union members will see the final deductions of subscriptions from the HMRC payroll.
The Ministry of Justice has opened consultation with the unions with a view to ending check-off. The consultation ends on 23 March, and it is likely that they will give unions 3 months’ notice to end check-off.
Francis Maude has long been determined to kill check-off, despite the shambles of Eric Pickles’ scandalous waste of £90,000 of taxpayers’ cash when he tried to end check-off in DCLG. In December 2013, Maude’s Department sent instructions to all Government Departments to ‘review’ check-off because it was deemed ‘not desirable’ and ‘unnecessary.’ The extent to which this was a purely ideological exercise was confirmed when the Department for Transport admitted to me in a letter that it is facing costs in removing check-off.
Many of our best employers know the value of trade unions in the workplace. Unions not only play a key role in supporting good working conditions and protecting workers’ rights, but also help foster productivity and raise standards in partnership with employers. It's no surprise therefore that major private sector employers use check-off in their companies. In construction there’s Balfour Beatty; in pharmaceuticals there’s AstraZeneca; in manufacturing there’s BAE, GKN and Rolls Royce.
That's why it's so disappointing, though not surprising, that Francis Maude, when embarking on major changes to the civil service, chose to provocatively attack the workforce unions rather than actively engage with them on the process of change.
The Tories should abandon these attempts to rush through the end of check-off before the General Election. Of course Labour believes the long term sustainability of trade unionism is more secure when members transfer from check-off to direct debt for payment of union dues. But such a move should be done in a fair and timely way while check-off remains in place or is reinstated if necessary, which is what we are committed to do.
With the election just weeks away sadly we’ll see more nasty political attacks like this from Tory Ministers on decent hardworking union members. While Tory MPs sitting for marginal seats were cheering Francis Maude in the Commons this week, it’s the hardworking union members who live in those constituencies who will soon get their chance to pass judgement on the Tories.
Jon Ashworth is the Labour MP for Leicester South and Shadow Cabinet Office Minister. You can find Jon on twitter here @JonAshworth.