Government forced to make key concessions on Trade Union Bill
18 March 2016
The government has been heavily defeated in the House of Lords over proposed trade union reforms to how the unions fund political parties. The government’s proposal is to require union members to "opt in" to paying a political levy, rather than opt out, as under the current long standing system. Labour believes three million fewer members of the biggest unions would agree to pay into them, costing it at least £6m in annual revenue.
Peers voted this week by 320 to 172 to apply the changes to new members only and with a 12-month transition period. The vote on political levies was one of three defeats for the government's Trade Union Bill. Peers also voted to commission an independent review of electronic balloting for industrial action - which ministers have rejected - and against a cap on the amount of paid time public sector workers can spend on trade union activity.
The government has also proposed a number of concessions to soften the impact of other, wide ranging trade union reform proposals:
- Industrial action ballot papers would only need to set out a "summary" of the dispute rather than a "reasonably detailed.
- The proposal to increase the notice period for industrial action from seven to 14 days is to be modified so that a seven-day notice would suffice if the employer agreed.
- A ballot in favour of industrial action would remain valid for six months, or up to nine months if the employer agreed. The Bill's original proposal was that industrial action must not take place more than four months after the ballot.
- Workers would be excluded from the new 40% threshold for ballots in important public services if the union "reasonably believes" that they are not "normally engaged in the provision of important public services" at the time of the ballot.
- The requirement for picket supervisors to identify themselves by wearing "a badge, armband or other item", would be reworded as a requirement to wear "something" to identify themselves.
There continue to be challenges to the extent to which the Trade Union Bill should apply in Wales and Scotland, in particular in the public sector. The government will also need to respond to concerns being raised by the UN International Labour Organisation.
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