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.
The Trade Union Bill does not help us workers. If it becomes law, we will have find it harder to negotiate better conditions, stop redundancies and fight for pay rises (or simply keep the status quo). For those of you who are workplace representatives or work within unions, your job will become much harder.
Here are some of the proposals to undermine the right to strike:
- Impose a minimum 50% turnout in strike ballot.
- Insist public sector strikes in "essential services" have the backing of at least 40% of those eligible to vote.
- Force unions to give employers 14 days' notice of strike action.
- Allow employers to bring in agency staff to cover for striking workers (this is not in the Bill, but they are bringing it in alongside it).
- Impose a 4-month time limit for industrial action mandates.
- Criminalise what they call 'unlawful' pickets - everyone on a picket line with more than 6 people.
So first the union has to get at least 50% of people to vote. But online or workplace voting is not allowed, so they have to physically fill in their ballot paper and post it back. If the balloted members are in a service classed as “essential” then they have to get 40% of eligible members to vote in favour of the strike. In this case if = 50% (a pretty high turn out) returned their ballot, then in reality 80% must vote in favour in order for strike action to go ahead because anyone abstentions are counted as no votes!
Then they have to give two weeks’ notice to the employer who is then allowed to employ agency workers during the strike dramatically reducing its impact, and changing the balance of power in the workplace in favour of employers.
The other proposals are:
- Remove everyone from membership of union political funds, and require members to opt in to re-join every 5 years - a direct attempt to reduce funding to the Labour Party and to reduce unions’ influence in British politics.
- Reduce facility time for trade unions within public sector workplaces, making it harder for them to represent their members.
- Give the government the power to fine unions up to £20,000 for breaches of reporting rules, including an annual audit on protests and pickets, which the government will require unions to jointly fund along with employers.
This Bill is an attack on our civil liberties. If we are unable to strike or threaten strike, we will have no power to negotiate better (or even keep the same) conditions or pay. We will see our deal at work worsen, until we are working more hours for less money in poorer conditions. Eight hundred years on from the introduction of Magna Carta, it is distressing to see us taking a step back to the middle ages with the Government changing the rules to put more power in the hands of the bosses.
I seem to remember Cameron rebranding his party as the ‘Workers' Party’. It looks like he might have changed his mind now he’s in power.
Lynsey Mann, GMB Rep and Equalities Activist
To join the campaign against the Trade Union Bill visit www.ourvoiceatwork.org.uk