Trade Union Bill GMB Member Update
The Trade Union Bill is still making it's way through Parliament. As of the time of writing (early March 2016) the Trade Union Bill is in the House of Lords. It’s nearing the end of it’s process in there. In the week commencing March 14th, Peers will put forward amendments (propose changes) to the Bill. The aim for GMB, Labour and the cross-party Lords and Baronesses who support us is to either get the government to accept those changes or defeat them in a vote.
When the Bill has passed through the House of Lords, it will go back to the House of Commons. Every bit of the Bill has to be agreed by the House of Commons and the House of Lords, no Bill is passed unless there is agreement on all of it on both sides. The Bill will bounce between the two places until both sides agree to the other’s changes. When there is agreement, the Bill is passed and goes to the Queen to be given what is called ‘Royal Assent’ - this means the Bill officially becomes law.
What GMB is doing
On the ground As many members will have seen, we’ve been campaigning across the country. During ‘Heart Unions’ we leafleted, held events, had special branch meetings and even had a regional road show. We’re also working with UnionsTogether to make sure everyone on social media knows we oppose the Trade Union Bill — you can see more at www.unionstogether.org.uk.
For GMB members, we have run workshops and training events to raise awareness of the changes and plan for different scenarios, including at National Equality Conference. While we might see some changes to the Bill, we need to plan for the worst case scenario to make sure we can continue to support members and grow as a union.
In Parliament GMB are working with UnionsTogether, the TUC, Peers and other trade unions to convince the House of Lords of our arguments and get substantial changes. We are working with Lords and Baronesses from across the political spectrum and making sure everyone who has a vote understands the position of the unions and what impact the Bill will have.
Some key points we’re making
In the House of Lords, we have logic and good arguments on our side. We oppose the whole Bill and will continue to make that case loudly, but as the Bill makes it through different stages, we have to focus our efforts onto some key areas if we want to see any changes made. GMB efforts are going into the following areas/making the following points:
Check off — there is absolutely no reason why public sector employers shouldn’t be able to offer check off if they want to. It’s not mandatory, it’s a voluntary agreement. There have been no complaints about check-off that the government is responding to, this is simply an attack on unions and union members.
Facility time — facility time in the public sector is not mandatory, it is offered by employers on a voluntary basis. It isn’t free time where members put their feet up, it gives reps the time they need to represent members, address health and safety concerns and negotiate on behalf of the workforce. Forcing these changes on the public sector means there is an unequal playing field with private companies who can offer time as they please.
Certification officer — the sweeping new powers of the certification officer are worrying. There is huge potential for them to be misused. Unions are independent, democratic organisations with internal governance structures. No one has complained about the current CO set up, this is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
Ballots and thresholds — the government plan to introduce arbitrary thresholds for industrial action ballots without even considering the possibility of new forms of balloting. GMB completely oppose the introduction of these thresholds — which many MPs wouldn't meet on their own election — but argue that if no concession will be made on this point, that at the very least ballot procedures should be brought into the 21st century.
Political funding — trade union money is the cleanest money in politics. We report our donations and any member who wants to can opt out of the political fund. The changes being posed are about attacking Labour Party funding and gagging trade unions. This is worrying for democracy and is simply an attempt by the Tory Party to stitch up the next election.
What happens to amendments?
A number of amendments have already been submitted to the House of Lords. The Peer who has tabled (fancy word for ‘put in’) the amendment will work across the House of Lords and whips offices to try and get support. Sometimes they can whip up enough support that they can defeat the government (by defeat, we mean call a vote and get more votes than the government), you might have heard of instances recently where that has happened, like reporting on child poverty, for example.
On other occasions, the government could be convinced that they will lose a vote if one is called so will offer concessions in order for the Peer to withdraw their proposed changes.