Who are the real dinosaurs in workplace relations? The union barons or out-of-touch Tory toffs? Whatever your view, get ready for a row about it.
Unions are seeking to pre-empt the launch of a Tory-led campaign against taxpayer-funded trade union officials by claiming they save the economy £2m every day.
The TUC report Facility Time for Union Reps: Separating fact from fiction [PDF], concludes that union reps in the workplace save time and money because they lead to "more productive, and better trained, workforces, safer workplaces, and fewer cases taken to employment tribunal".
The TUC's report includes affidavits from several local government employers, who say union activity makes their workforces happier and more efficient.
The union released their claims ahead of the official launch of the Trade Union Reform Campaign (TURC), a feisty group of Tories who are determined to stop what they claim are taxpayers funding union officials in the public sector. Their launch event is being held in Westminster on Wednesday evening.
Chief among the TURC's targets are the "Pilgrims", public sector workers who allegedly work full-time doing trade union work. The terms arises from the row which engulfed Jane Pilgrim, who was thought to be a full-time nurse but who turned out to be doing extensive trade union activity during working hours.
The TURCs believe nearly 3,000 public sector staff take part in some form of union activity during working hours, and that unions get £113 million from taxpayers a year. The unions haven't disputed these numbers, but insist the money is well-spent.
A recent adjournment debate by now-disgraced Tory MP Aidan Burley descended into highly un-parliamentary exchanges between the MP for Cannock Chase and Merseyside MP Steve Rotheram.
After Burley's ministerial ambitions were scuppered by his stag party scandal last month, the mantle was passed to rising star Jesse Norman, who tried to introduce a Bill to the Commons a fortnight ago calling for Pilgrims to be outlawed. But the private Bill failed to even get a first reading in the Commons when Labour galvanised the vast majority of its MPs to reject it.
In a statement on Wednesday, TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “The highly exaggerated and wholly inaccurate figures being bandied around by groups and individuals on the right as to the cost of unions in the public sector are supposedly borne out of a desire to save money. In reality they are nothing more than a thinly-veiled attack on unions."
He was supported by the PCS union, who have honed in on the fact Aidan Burley is leading the TURC campaign and former defence secretary Liam Fox is supporting it.
PCS leader Mark Serwotka said: ""The truth is that, if they got their way, these discredited MPs leading a purely politically motivated campaign would damage our economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds a year."
Tonight's launch at Westminster will include a speech by communities secretary Eric Pickles, a former chairman of the Conservative Party.
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