THE BLOG

Adding Insult to Injury on the Trade Union Bill

25/01/2016 17:26 GMT | Updated 25/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Last week, in addition to the debate in the House of Lords, which saw an embarrassing government defeat on the undemocratic party funding proposals in the Trade Union Bill of 327 votes against, to 234 in favour, the government released its long-awaited impact assessment of the bill.

For many of us the question remained - how could the Tories possibly justify their decision to target the largest, democratic, grassroots organisation in the country in the way they have done in the bill? For those of you who haven't yet read the mammoth 112 pages of the impact assessment - spoiler alert: it's not included.

In fact, those of us hoping to find answers to any of the substantial questions posed during scrutiny of the legislation were once again bitterly disappointed by the release of the report. It really is a shame that the Tories don't subject themselves to a fraction of the transparency that they are so keen to impose on unions.

And if the content was bad then the fact that such an important document of public concern was so silently released is even worse. If only David Cameron was as vocal of the serious impact of Tory legislation on the wider public as he is during his pre-prepared jokes at Prime Minister's Questions.

The impact assessment on union finances is the first issue dealt with in the report and doesn't make for pleasant reading. It shows that unions will face costs in excess of £11.2million and the financial burden doesn't end there. As well as this initial outlay, unions - and ultimately union members paying their subs - will be subjected to another £26million over the five year period subsequent to the passing of the bill.

This is further proof - not that it was required - that the bill is a blatant attempt by the Tories to inflict yet more red tape on unions.

It also serves to hinder unions in the vital service they provide to members by diverting money away from providing support, advice and a much-needed lifeline in the workplace, to, what the report repeatedly explains away as, "familiarisation costs" "administrative costs" and other "new costs" which can all be attributed to Government-imposed bureaucracy.

This also assumes that the same government, who have shown their failure to grasp how unions operate time and time again during debates on the legislation that I have been involved in, have not missed anything this time. In fact, the TUC deems these figures to be too modest and expects the financial burden on unions to be significantly greater.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the report adds insult to injury.

Buried in the report lies the Tories' favourite disclaimer: "None of these changes are about banning strikes". Instead there is talk of the importance of unions having a "democratic mandate". Funny that the Tories have chosen to focus on this rather than their own democratic mandates as only 56 out of the 330 Tory MPs elected at the last General Election received the levels of support they deem necessary for industrial ballots.

If the onus was really on promoting democracy within the trade union movement then why are alternative methods of conducting union ballots not explored? Workplace or e-balloting were serious options raised by myself and colleagues in the House, as well as by representatives from the trade union movement and beyond, but were all repeatedly dismissed without consideration.

Those looking for recognition of the vital work played by unions will also be bitterly disappointed. In fact the best that the report does is acknowledge "Trade unions can play an important role in the workplace". Faint praise indeed. Perhaps the government should instead consult the Survation poll showing that 77% of the public view trade unions as "essential" in protecting workers rights, or, you know, the six million trade union members across the UK. Just a thought.

This, of course, is hardly surprising. During my stint on the bill committee, it soon became clear that first and foremost the Tories have a fundamental lack of understanding, or appreciation, when it comes to trade unions.

They do not see unions as a force for good, campaigning for better employment rights for those across the country. They do not see them as a vehicle for promoting equality and social change. They do not see them as providing working people with a much-needed collective voice. They see them, pure and simple, as a threat. A threat to the reign of a perpetual Tory Government - and how do you deal with something you feel threatened by? Cut off its resources and take away its voice, just as this bill hopes to do to the union movement.

The Tories can do their best but they have seriously underestimated the difficulty of silencing the collective voice and this is why we hope you'll continue to stand with us and voice your opposition to the bill.

Jo Stevens is the Labour MP for Cardiff Central and secretary of the Trade Union Group of MPs

A version of this blog was first published on the Trade Union Group of MPs blog, and can be read here

The Trade Union Group of MPs is a vehicle for promoting the voices of working people in Parliament, working with a wide range of MPs and trade unionists to push the political agenda on to the side of working people