In yet another defeat against the government’s trade union Bill, peers passed an amendment yesterday (April 19) reversing a ban on a method for paying union subscriptions in the public sector.
Known as ‘check-off’, the method allows union members to have their subscriptions deducted through payroll. The government’s proposed ban would have torn up these agreements between staff and employers, some of which have been in place for decades.
The ban would have also dealt a blow to unions’ income, and would have excluded those most in need of union membership.
“Arguments have been made with considerable vim and vigour that by ending check-off and moving to direct debit, those on low pay and especially those who have pay day loans might have to cease being trade union members or have to pay extra bank charges,” noted Conservative Lord Bridges of Headley at the Bill’s Report Stage in the Lords last night (April 19).
The government agreed to back the amendment that would allow check-off to continue as long as trade unions pay to administer the system, which is already the case in many workplaces.
But this isn’t the first hole picked in the trade union Bill either – only last month the House of Lords dealt the government a triple defeat on the Bill.
As UniteLIVE reported, a proposal requiring all members to opt in to their union’s political fund instead of opting out as they do now was amended to cover only new members. This will leave current members able to continue with the opt-out system.
Another blow the Lords dealt to the trade union Bill last month was through an amendment that calls for a review into electronic balloting, which will potentially help modernise the way in which trade union members vote for industrial action. At the moment, they are only allowed to vote by post.
Finally, the Lords passed another amendment in March that would end a proposed cap on facility time for public sector workers. Facility time – the time reps spend on trade union duties – helps maintain a safe workplace and improves relations between workers and bosses.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail welcomed the latest news on the apparent U-turn on the check-off ban.
“The proposal to end check-off was an obvious and needless assault on public sector workers. A crude attempt to starve unions of cash and weaken our workplace organisation,” she said.
“It’s part of a wider government attack on public sector workers,” Cartmail added. “Not content with imposing pay restraint, cutting jobs and slashing funding for local authorities and more, the government’s latest broadside to union organisation is a warning we cannot ignore.”
“The Trade Union Bill hasn’t gone away, the Tory’s fear of well organised providers of public services we all rely on is undiminished,” she went on to say. “It is our members who stand up for public services, who fight to retain universal access to quality services.
“The government is also aiming to end facility time for public sector workers by the backdoor,” Cartmail said. “They’ve backtracked on a cap on facility time but they’re still requiring public sector employers to diligently document the time reps spend on their trade union duties, which, among other things, is instrumental in keeping workplaces safe.
“The red tape involved may tempt employers to curtail trade union reps the facility time they’re legitimately and what’s more legally entitled to – which in itself is a de facto cap.
Unite will continue to organise our public sector members around the issues that matter to them and the public they serve,” she said. “My message is we are not fearful and plan to increase our density in every workplace Unite has a presence.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey also hailed the government’s climb down on the ban on check-off.
“Of course the announcement that the attacks on check-off will be dropped is very welcome news,” he said. “It is thanks to the hard work of the unions and the Labour peers that the government has been forced to think again.
“It was absurd that the government was seeking to interfere in the private and amicable arrangements between workers, their employers and their unions,” he added.
“Small wonder that union members – millions of ordinary working people – feel needlessly under attack by this government,” McCluskey went on to say.
“We still have a bill that will make it harder for UK workers to defend themselves, that undermines the right to strike and establishes an aggressive regulator for a movement that is already the most tightly monitored in the western world.
“We would therefore urge the government not to stop here but to think again on the entire trade union bill for it will set back industrial relations in this country by decades.”
As the trade union Bill goes back to the Commons for consideration of the amendments and the final vote next week (April 27), Unite urges everyone to write to their MP. You can do just that here.