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Fundamental human right attacked

Proposed trade union legislation may breach international law
Duncan Milligan, Monday, June 15th, 2015

As the Government has confirmed plans to curve the right to strike, UNITElive spoke with Unite’s director of legal services Howard Beckett in an exclusive interview.



Government demands for higher turnouts in strike ballots must go hand in hand with modernising voting methods such as using e-balloting, says Howard Beckett, Unite’s director of legal services. While a whole range of modern voting methods have been allowed for shareholders in companies, unions can only use postal voting for ballots.



“Company shareholders have a range of voting methods open to them,” he told UNITElive as unions await details of a new trade union bill. “We can use online services across Government, but unions are denied using modern methods for balloting.



“If they demand higher turnouts for all industrial action ballots that must go hand in hand with modernising voting methods. The right to withdraw your labour is a fundamental right that people should be able to exercise.”



With a draft bill still to be published the Government is demanding not just a majority vote in favour of strike action, but that at least 50 per cent of those able to vote do so. In “essential” services – yet to be defined – the demand may be that at least 40% of those eligible to vote have to vote yes for the strike to be legal.



To put that in context, only 25 per cent of those eligible to vote in the UK, voted for the Tories at the last election. That threshold is enough to give them the green light to attack public services, jobs, pay and pensions.



Demanding that 40% of those eligible to vote sets the bar very high indeed. It also ensures that, in effect, not voting is considered a ‘no’ vote.



The attack may be even worse in services deemed to be “essential”. Howard Beckett fears Government may use the very wide definition used in the Civil Contingencies Act.



This act identifies nine as providing ‘essential services’ upon which daily life in the UK depends. These are: food, energy, water, communications, transport, health, emergency services, government, and finance — a very wide net.



“If the CCA definition is used then essential services are defined very widely and go way beyond the public sector and into the private sector”, says Beckett. “So demanding that 40 per cent of those eligible to vote must vote yes for the action to be legal could catch a lot of people in a lot of sectors.”



Beckett sees the moves as being ideological and political. “The Tories are trying to tie us up in even more red tape, subject us to more cost, and open the door for employers to make more challenges to legal ballots. The central issue is that they do not really accept that withdrawing your labour is a fundamental human right in a modern democracy.



“If they enact these laws in the way they say they will, they could be in breach of international laws which protect the right to withdraw your labour. They will again be in breach of rights set out by the UN-backed International Labour Organisation.



“The Tories will happily lecture us on the rule of law. But they will wilfully ignore international laws governing rights at work when it pleases them.”



The most blatant party political attack in the bill when it comes is that relating to the trade union link with the Labour Party, says Beckett. This is aimed at seriously undermining Labour Party funding.



It comes, he points out, hot on the heels of the so called Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act. This Act left lobbying untouched but made it more difficult for charities, the voluntary sector and trade unions to campaign for change.



“This is a ‘gagging act’ aimed to silence or quieten critics of the Government.” he said.  “The latest proposals are aimed at making industrial action more difficult and also to undermine political opposition to the Tories.



“Those who contribute and donate to the Tories will have no new restrictions placed on them. This is a blatant attack on another political party.



“This was not in the Tory manifesto. Similar laws were introduced under a conservative government in Australia.



“The link between the Australian conservatives and our Tories is they have both used election strategist Lynton Crosby, In my view this particular move has Lynton Crosby hallmarks all over it.”




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