The aim was to try and stop unions striking – now the government’s plans to shackle workers’ protests have backfired as the top lawyer called in to review trade union disputes, has distanced himself from the government.
In the Carr review, government appointed Bruce Carr QC, an employment law expert, was asked by cabinet office minister, Francis Maude, to examine union laws and come up with recommendations to stop supposed ‘intimidation’ by activists.
But now Carr has distanced himself from last month’s policy announcements by Maude, when the minister made clear that the Tories would introduce new laws to curb workers’ rights to take lawful industrial action, which if enacted would pace the UK on a par with repressive regimes such as Kazakhstan.
Carr said this had rendered his own review “meaningless” and told ministers that he would not be making any recommendations for legal changes.
Carr’s announcement is deeply embarrassing for the Conservative arm of the coalition government, undermining their previous insistence that the QC’s review was neutral and absent of political interference. It also backs the unions’ argument that the review was just a political stunt by the government.
Shot themselves in foot
Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey welcomed the news. “The Tories have spectacularly shot themselves in the foot on this,” he said. “In their haste to attack trade unions, they have embarrassed their own appointee, Bruce Carr, into accepting this report for what it was all along – a desperate pre-election stunt to smear democratic trades unions and their members.
“This was always a purely political exercise with neither the CBI nor the TUC prepared to get involved. Now Bruce Carr has moved to distance himself from what was nothing more than a pre-meditated effort by the Tory party to get a QC to sanction laws further restricting the rights of unions.”
The planned review, due to be finished later this month, was already stalled after the TUC objected to what it believed was a lack of consultation.
In a statement on the review’s website Carr said he had become increasingly concerned about the quantity and breadth of evidence the review has been able to obtain. He added that, “I am also concerned about the ability of the review to operate in a progressively politicised environment in the run-up to the general election and in circumstances in which the main parties will wish to legitimately set out their respective manifesto commitments and have already started to do so.
“Any recommendations which might be put forward without the necessary factual underpinning would be capable of being construed as the review making a political rather than an evidence based judgment, whichever direction such recommendations might take.”
He said that the review would now produce a “scaled-down report”, but would “not make recommendations for change.”
It’s understood that Carr first raised concerns that the review had been severely compromised last month, after Maude announced a package of new laws to curb unions’ rights to take industrial action. The proposals, a mainstay of a Tories’ election manifesto, include the imposition of balloting thresholds and moves to make picketing a criminal offence. Carr is said to have told ministers this announcement cut right across the review.
Unite has warned that the Conservative Party remains intent on its vicious anti-union plans.
Said Len McCluskey, “The UK’s trade unions are already the most highly regulated in the world, leaving the UK’s workers among the easiest and cheapest to sack. But while Bruce Carr may have thrown in the towel, the Tories remain intent on going into the general election in 2015 with a vicious anti-worker programme.
“Now at least voters can see their agenda for what it is – a determination to impede all protest against unethical behaviour by employers, and the removal of the last vestiges of protection against abuse that the working people of this country possess.”
Frances O’Grady, TUC general secretary, has called for the cost of the exercise to be repaid to the taxpayer by the Tory party. She said Mr Carr had been “cynically used by the government in a party political stunt for the Conservative Party.”