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The Trade Union Bill – why we need to act now!


The vast amount of information out there can sometimes make it hard for us to distinguish between what issues are really important, and what are just media scare tactics. As a general rule, I have found that if the media are keeping pretty quiet about something, then it is something to pay attention to.

Have you heard much about the Trade Union Bill? I know I haven’t, other than through my union.  Well, there’s a reason they don’t want us to know about it, why they don’t want any resistance against this Bill: because it will make life harder for working people, and make it harder for us to win a fair deal at work.

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The Trade Union Bill - unfinished business?

I know it shouldn’t come as a surprise but I was genuinely shocked by some of the speeches made at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester this week. The Home Secretary’s promise to close our borders to refugees fleeing for their lives sent a chill through my blood. Theresa May is an observant Anglican. Perhaps she should consider the words of the Pope who recently told the US Congress that immigration enriches and renews society.

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Tory Budget Spells Trouble for Local Councils

George Osborne’s budget has left councils across the country in disarray. The local government funding cuts were expected, but knowing they were coming makes them no less painful.

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The leadership blogs - Andy Burnham

A strong voice for trade unions by Andy Burnham MP

During the miners’ strikes of the 80s, our school bus used to drive past Parkside Colliery. It was around the time I started getting interested in politics – I joined the Party in 1984, when I was 14. Thirty years on, it’s devastating to see the Tories back in power, continuing their demonisation campaign against the unions and attempting to dismantle the rights of workers everywhere to stand up to injustice and ill treatment.

Trade unions and trade unionists are the bedrock of the Labour Party. It is vital that the Labour Leadership works closely with unions and reflects the values and aspirations of your members. The Tories have wasted no time in making their intention clear - during this Parliament they intend to strip unions of their rights and powers. As Leader, I will stand with you, and I will lead the effort to build a coalition of support against the Trade Union Bill.

Trade union funding is the cleanest money in politics, and I will vigorously defend your right to maintain a political fund and support our Party and candidates across the country. I will fight with you against the Tories’ cynical moves to break this relationship whilst accepting cash from hedge fund managers and private healthcare providers. And I have vocally opposed the Tories’ erosion of workplace rights, including the impact of the introduction of tribunal fees, on which I have asked Sir Keir Starmer to lead a review. These are issues that Labour will not shy away from under my Leadership.

The reality of politics is that to make lives better for the millions of people who are suffering at the hands of the Tories, we need to win the next General Election. To win in 2020, we must have a Labour Leader who can unite the Party, provide strong opposition to damaging Tory policies and offer the electorate big, bold policies that can really change their lives.

That’s why I’ve laid out five key pledges in my manifesto, underpinned by a commitment to a credible and detailed Labour plan for the economy, to help everyone to get on in life:

·         A future with hope for all young people – without the millstone of debt – through a modern, comprehensive education system, replacing tuition fees with a new graduate tax, and creating new university-style support for young people seeking apprenticeships.

·         An affordable home for all to rent or own – by freeing councils to build new homes and introducing regulation of the private rented sector.

·         A secure, well-paid job for everyone – by abolishing the youth rate National Minimum Wage, establishing a true living wage for all ages, banning forced zero-hours contracts and unpaid internships.

·         Affordable and reliable transport for all – through a policy of progressive re-nationalisation of our railways and re-regulation of our buses.  

·         And good care for all your needs from cradle to grave – and no one forced to sell their home – through a National Health and Care Service, bringing social care into the NHS.

I will oppose the Welfare Bill as Leader, and I will campaign to stay in a reformed European Union, with extra EU funding to support public services in UK communities that are most affected by intra-EU migration.

We will only win in 2020 if we are united, and under my Leadership I will work to make sure that we are.

Repeated polls have shown that I’m by far the most credible and popular candidate amongst Labour voters and amongst the general public in every part of the country. I’m in the best position to win back support from the other parties and to win back votes in Scotland, and I have a 21 point lead among loyal Labour supporters.

It will be the mission of the Labour Party I lead to help everyone to get on in life. But I can’t do it alone. Please join me, and help me to change the Labour Party, so that we can win in 2020 and change Britain.

Andy Burnham is one of four candidates standing to be the next Labour leader which will be chosen by Labour Party members and affiliate supporters. If your trade union supports Labour you can sign-up to vote here for free

The leadership blogs - Yvette Cooper

I believe deeply in Labour’s continued relationship with the Trade Union movement.  As the granddaughter of a miner and the daughter of a Trade Unionist, I know the essential role of unions to protect and advance the rights of workers.

When my mum went to work it was still legal to pay women less – our Trade Unions changed that.  I was proud to be part of a government that brought back Trade Union rights to GCHQ. As Leader of the Labour Party, I want a strong on-going relationship between Labour and the unions.

I am appalled by the Tories’ ideologically driven attack on our movement.  As Leader, I will do everything I can to fight it.  The Trade Union Bill puts narrow Tory party interests ahead of what is right for the country. It not only undermines years of progress on workers rights but it also breaks the growing consensus on the need to reform funding of political parties

The legislation seeks to pit workers against employers and will make it harder for successful conclusions to be reached when there are disputes.  It is another example of the Tories employing cheap divide and rule tactics. Trade unions have a real and constructive role to play in the future of working people and to build the economy Britain needs to thrive. Labour must do all it can to stop these divisive and damaging measures from coming into force.

I want to bring fairness back into the workplace and give people the confidence and security in work they deserve. This means scrapping the Governments punitive tribunal fees and putting pressure on the Government to publish their report into this unfair system.  We need to reverse the two-year qualification for unfair dismissal rules and Labour should lend support to good employers who want to see an end to malpractice.

The Labour Party and Trade Unions have worked together for over a century to advance women’s equality.  I want to work with Trade Unions in a shared mission to end maternity discrimination for good.  For too many women starting a family is finishing their career. I was the first Government Minister to take maternity leave – and know from experience that some people are more supportive than others.

More than 60% of women have said they faced discrimination after becoming pregnant.  That is deeply unfair and bad for the economy because skilled and talented women employees are pushed out.  We need stronger laws against maternity discrimination - but we also need to make it easier for the law to be enforced.

I want to work with unions to create the high skilled, high productivity jobs of the future.  I have set an ambition for the UK economy – public and private – of 3% GDP investment in science, research and development – including cutting edge green technologies. This could help us deliver 2 million more manufacturing jobs. 

Above all, Labour needs to offer an optimistic vision for the future.

One rooted in our values, but is hard-headed and credible. One that sets out a vision for growth and shared prosperity, where our nation becomes fairer and less divided, with security in the workplace and the high-skilled jobs our country needs.

It is no use just shouting from the sidelines. It is no use being angry about the world. We’re Labour, we have to change the world.  Let’s work together and make sure we defeat the Tories and win again in 2020.

Yvette Cooper is one of four candidates standing to be the next Labour leader which will be chosen by Labour Party members and affiliate supporters. If your trade union supports Labour you can sign-up to vote here for free

The leadership blogs - Jeremy Corbyn

Stronger Together

Trade unions are the most effective force for equality in our society. Research by The Spirit Level authors Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett show that greater pay equality correlates with higher trade union membership.

Britain already has the most restrictive anti-union laws in western Europe, and this government is about to tighten them further.

The Tories say this law is about democratic mandate. This is a deceit. We know this because they have rejected trade union proposals to boost turnout through secure workplace balloting, and because these rules won't apply to any political election or to any other organisations.

We must oppose this Bill, and make clear that if it passes it will be repealed under the next Labour government. If I am leader we will also put forward a new Bill that will expand trade union and employment rights so that working people can improve and defend their wages and rights at work.

The next Labour government must end the public sector pay cap, ensure the recommendations of national pay bodies are implemented, and restore national pay bargaining. And I will continue to campaign with you for an inflation-plus pay rise for public sector workers now.

Some of the worst examples of low pay and poor working conditions are to be found in the private sector, where too many workers lack trade union membership. We need to increase the resources going into enforcement of the minimum wage. The next Labour government must give trade unions the right to access workplaces to recruit and organise.

We also need to look at establishing wage councils with binding standards in some low paid industries, and extend the remit of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority into industries where exploitation and unsafe practices are worst.

In the mid-1990s then Labour leader John Smith set out a 'Charter for Employment Rights' to:

"give all working people basic rights that will come into force from the first day of their employment. We will give the same legal rights to every worker, part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent.

"We will give every working man and woman the right to protection against unfair dismissal, and access to health and safety protection. And every worker will have the right to join a trade union and have the right to union recognition."

That modest charter - for equal rights for all workers from day one - needs to be in the next Labour manifesto.

Abolishing of tribunal fees would help protect insecure workers, including pregnant women and mothers returning to work, who need and full employment rights from day one to protect them against unfair dismissal and an end to employment tribunal fees which prevent these women from getting justice. I have published a full women's manifesto 'Working with women'.

Our party was founded to stand up for workers and I have been proud to be trade unionist, trade union official, Labour councillor and Labour MP. I have always represented the labour movement to the best of my ability in each role, because our movement is about our collective strength. I want to thank ASLEF, BFAWU, CWU, TSSA, Unison and Unite for their support - and the many members of all unions who have backed my campaign.

I will never be ashamed to stand up for you, work with you, stand on picket lines with you. As members and trade unionists you must be involved in the party at every level to keep the new leader and MPs in touch with the workplaces and communities you represent. Together we will build the movement that will win the 2020 election.

Jeremy Corbyn is one of four candidates standing to be the next Labour leader which will be chosen by Labour Party members and affiliate supporters. If your trade union supports Labour you can sign-up to vote here for free

The leadership blogs - Liz Kendall

The trade unions have always been an integral part of the movement and of the party I love. Our party owes its very existence to the trade union movement, and throughout the last century and more we have been at our best when the two great movements work together. One of the proudest moments of the last Labour Government - the historic introduction of the minimum wage – would never have been achieved without the trade unions. Right up to the vote, the Tories told us it could never work, but together we challenged the consensus and together we overturned it.

As a proud trade unionist I know that the need for a strong and healthy union movement in this country, looking out for workers, ensuring they have a voice in the workplace and protecting them from exploitation, remains as vital as ever, but under the Conservatives it is under existential threat.

The new anti-union laws introduced under the Trade Union Bill threaten the very foundation of the right to industrial action: by demanding a strike be voted for by a minimum of 40% of all eligible voters, the Government will effectively make the right to strike illegal. It’s the total hypocrisy of the move which rankles the most: as unions have pointed out, not only have the Conservatives been elected on a mandate of less than 40% of the vote, but only 56 of their 330 MPs achieved the 40% threshold. Half of the Cabinet would fail to meet the threshold if they had applied that rule, including, incredibly, Sajid Javid himself.

This isn’t about reforming unions – it’s an attack on the movement itself.

That’s why I’ve said from the outset - the Trade Union Bill is wrong, I’ve opposed it from the start, I’ll fight it tooth and nail in the Commons and as Prime Minister, I will repeal it.

The union movement has a proud record of organising and standing up for people all across the country. So as well as standing up to this Tory assault on workers rights, I want to go much further, giving people a stake and a say in the companies they work for and a place on the company board. And we can make it much easier for unions to represent their members, including the use of online balloting - increasing participation and the speed in which ballots operate, and helping keep unions relevant and responsive to their members.

Of course the union movement faces challenges. Only one in every seven private sector employees are unionised, and it’s those workers who are forced onto low-paid, part time, insecure contracts in the private sector that need union representation the most.

I’m proud of Labour’s deep bond with the trade union movement. The many challenges of the 21st century - low productivity, low wages and fierce international competition – can only be tackled with a strong and effective trade union movement.

It’s a link, and a movement, the Tories will never understand and will always try and break. 

We must stand together against their onslaught. 

And in this fight, I promise you I will always be an ally.

Liz Kendall is one of four candidates standing to be the next Labour leader which will be chosen by Labour Party members and affiliate supporters. If your trade union supports Labour you can sign-up to vote here for free

This despicable Trade Union Bill must be opposed by all who value freedom

The Tories’ Trade Union Bill is illegal, illiterate and illiberal.

 Illegal because it breaches the UK’s international legal obligations.

 Illiterate because it is incoherent, inconsistent, bureaucratic and nonsensical.

 And illiberal because it requires government officials to snoop into union affairs, seize documents and impose fines – all at the union’s own expense.

As trailed in the Tory Manifesto and the Queen’s Speech, unions will face additional restrictions before members can take action which is legally protected. The ballot will require not just a majority of those voting, but a majority of those entitled to vote, a threshold which denies the democratic will of those choosing to take part in the ballot and effectively treats a failure to vote as a “No” vote.

 Additional restrictions are imposed in “important public services”, a wider definition than the “essential public services” in existing law. This applies not just to those directly providing the service, but also those involved in ancillary activities, like cleaners in a hospital. In these “important public services”, not only must there be a majority voting “Yes” and a 50% turnout, but 40% of those entitled to vote must have voted in favour.

It’s a cruel injustice that the Tories regard these activities as “important public services” for the purposes of curtailing trade union activities, yet they don’t think those services should be provided by the public sector and have privatised many of them.

There will be even more new requirements to satisfy before a ballot is legal.

The ballot paper must now include “a reasonably detailed indication of the matters in issue in the trade dispute”, “the types of industrial action” contemplated and when the action is likely to take place. This is all designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, for a union to comply with the law, to deter members from voting in favour of action and to give employers the maximum opportunity for legal challenge.

If the union manages to satisfy all of this, and members vote in favour of action, the union will now be required to give two weeks’ notice before action can start (rather than one week as previously) and will have to re-ballot if the action continues for more than four months.

Pickets are to be turned into criminals, by requiring the union appoint a picket supervisor who must report to the police. The legislation goes into ridiculous detail even requiring the picket supervisor to “wear a badge, armband or other item” to identify them. This smacks of something from the 1930s.

Under the Tory Bill, unions will only be able to receive political fund contributions from those members who have opted in, in writing, to the political fund. Every union will have only three months from when the new Act becomes law to sign up members to the political fund.  This is an impossible task, designed to prevent unions from spending money on campaigning as well as a nakedly political attack on opposition to the Tory government and the funding of the Labour Party.

It is a blatant manoeuvre to shut down democracy and debate and an outright assault on freedom of expression and protest.

It’s reinforced by requiring unions to publish details of all their political expenditure, giving details of every amount over £2000, who it was paid to and the nature of it.

The Bill imposes absurdly bureaucratic requirements on public authorities to publish minutely detailed data on union officials employed by them who are carrying out union activities or duties.

The intention is clearly to deter public employers from allowing facility time, even where it is agreed, with the further aim of preventing union officials from having the time and resources to represent their members. And, if that isn’t enough, the government also gives itself the power to impose regulations which would restrict the amount of facility time employers can actually give.

To cap it all, the Bill seeks to transform the role of the Certification Officer from a neutral adjudicator on union law and rules into a state snooper. The Certification Officer will be required to investigate all sorts of internal union issues, whether or not any member has complained, demand documents and issue orders against the union which can be enforced, not only by the Certification Officer, but by any union member. And unions must pay for the privilege of this by paying a levy to fund the Certification Officer.

Trade unions are voluntary, democratic organisations, essential in a free society. No other organisations face such state intrusion and restriction on their activities.

This Bill is the work of a vindictive Tory Party using the levers of government for its own political ends, seeking to outlaw legitimate protest and opposition, stifle free speech and choke off the finances and resources of political opponents.

It must be opposed by everyone who values freedom and the rule of law.

Jo Stevens is the Labour Member of Parliament for Cardiff Central

Why become an 'affiliate trade union supporter'?

The way we as trade-unionists have our say in the Labour Party has changed.

In the past, members of trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party were automatically given a say. But, under changes agreed by the trade unions, in order to have our say each union member must now sign-up as an “affiliated trade union supporter”.

There are many reasons for the change, but the principle is very simple; if we make the choice to sign-up, our voice will be heard.

That is more important now than ever.

Trade unions are the largest voluntary membership organisations in the country by many, many millions. In fact, no other group of organisations even come close.

It is because of our enduring importance in the workplace, and the hard work of thousands of reps up and down the country that - despite the decline in the manufacturing industries – millions of working people are still members of trade unions. Far higher than our opponents on the right would give us credit for.

Trade unionists, like us, should be proud of the positive and integral role we have played in society over what is now three centuries.

From a decent wage for working people who lived in the abject penury of the burgeoning industrial era through to maternity and paternity pay, health and safety at work, and in the fight for equality, we have been at the forefront.

That is what trade unions and trade unionism means. And that is what we have given to this country and the world.

It, therefore, certainly says more about the Conservative Party and their reckless ideology, that they want to destroy rather than work with trade unionists who are standing up for their colleagues every single day in thousands of workplaces across the country.

The Labour Party cannot lose our voice. It is that simple.

 It was construction workers, working alongside Labour politicians who introduced the legislation which put safety at work at the top of the agenda; it was women factory workers along with a Labour Secretary of State which gave us equal pay; and it was shop workers who led the charge for the National Minimum Wage.

The Labour Party remains the best vehicle for workers to achieve much more in the future. But without trade unionists, it will lose its guiding voice.

So sign-up here today and get involved. It won’t cost you a penny

Danny Coyne is the unionstogether Campaigns Officer and a member of Unite the Union.


The election of a majority Tory UK government

The election of a majority Tory UK government is a stark reminder for trade union members in Scotland of why we need a Labour Party that listens to working people.

While we can debate the causes, the outcome of the 2015 General Election is a Tory government committed to cutting public services and attacks on trade unions, far more extreme than even Margaret Thatcher’s legislation. 

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