THE BLOG
16/10/2015 13:47 BST | Updated 16/10/2016 06:12 BST

No, Prime Minister

On Wednesday, David Cameron told the House of Commons that he and I agreed. No, prime minister, we most certainly do not. For the avoidance of doubt, let me spell it out. The thresholds for industrial action being brought forward by the Conservatives in their trade union bill are not acceptable. They erect a double hurdle for millions of workers, in the main low paid and female, to clear before they can take lawful action to defend themselves and they will trip unions into law-breaking as they endeavour to uphold the fundamental freedom of all workers, the right to withdraw their labour.

On Wednesday, David Cameron told the House of Commons that he and I agreed. No, prime minister, we most certainly do not.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me spell it out. The thresholds for industrial action being brought forward by the Conservatives in their trade union bill are not acceptable. They erect a double hurdle for millions of workers, in the main low paid and female, to clear before they can take lawful action to defend themselves and they will trip unions into law-breaking as they endeavour to uphold the fundamental freedom of all workers, the right to withdraw their labour.

Given the menace his thresholds present, I extended a pragmatic hand to the prime minister. I wrote to him to say that not only must thresholds be accompanied by modern ways of voting, in the workplace, failure to supply this vital provision will confirm the bill as nothing other than a Conservative lunge at the rights of millions of working people. Furthermore, by establishing a law that allows abstentions to be counted as `no' votes, he traduces democracy. This cannot be what the prime minister intends?

That is why the government must drop its insistence that industrial action ballots are conducted exclusively by post - an archaic method of balloting long since abandoned by most democratic organisations and one which drives down the very turnouts that ministers say they wish to raise.

So too must Mr Cameron's cease with his claims that modern voting is not yet secure. Witness the recent selection of the London mayoral candidate for the Conservative party - all conducted electronically and without question or interference. Surely he is not questioning Zac Goldsmith's selection?

Most importantly and above all, it is time to let workers vote safely and securely in their place of work. Secret, secure voting is easily guaranteed in most workplaces, with independent scrutiny as a democratic double-lock giving the public, employers and union members guarantees regarding the integrity of any vote.

A watertight system for workplace balloting is already in place - those run by the Central Arbitration Commission, a government body, on trade union recognition, mostly conducted in workplaces, routinely record turnouts in the region of 90%. And since 2000 when these ballots came into existence, dozens have been undertaken - and not one incidence or complaint of fraud or abuse.

As has become all too evidently clear at the trade union bill's committee hearings this week, this is a terrible piece of legislation. Tory members were repeatedly asked to spell out what problems this bill was meant to solve that could not be addressed by existing laws and regulations. Answers there came none.

The planned use of agency labour to break strikes will destroy industrial and community relations. The fresh constraints on union political funds will strike many fair-minded people as shamefully partisan, given that no similar curbs are planned on the secretive business funding of the Tories.

Super-charging the powers of the Certification Officer so that he or she can raid union offices on a whim, demand files and haul unions to court are an appalling act of state terror. While this government was happy to deny workers the right to defend themselves in tribunals, unless they stump up £1,200 to demonstrate that their claims are not 'vexatious', it will confer upon an already powerful union regulator the right to rampage on nothing more than an anonymous phone call.

The Police Federation has said clearly that they do not want to be charged with poking around in people's social media and nor do they want trade union members marked out by their armbands, the echoes of Franco warned of by David Davis MP. The professional body for HR managers (the CIPD) has said the bill will take industrial relations backwards.

Moreover, as the devolved administrations say that they want nothing to do with it, viewing this bill as an attack on the rights of the people they represent, it becomes all too clear that English workers will be the ones to feel the brunt of these changes.

How ironic - promised by this government that they will be blessed by English laws for English voters, English workers are to be rendered by the Tories not just the easiest to exploit in the EU but the poorest protected on these isles.

This is a bill with no friends let alone admirers beyond the cabinet. Surely, then, when presented with a pragmatic measure to improve what he regards as the main provision of the bill, the thresholds, the Prime Minister can see the sense in accepting the helping hand.

So I say to him once again, work with us to devise a modern, 21st Century democratic voting procedure which can ensure that strike action only takes place after union members have had a chance to vote in the workplace in an accessible way that is at the same time secure and safe.

With the perception deepening that his government is not so much motivated by one nation as by class spite and the credibility of this bill in tatters, I urge David Cameron not to spurn this offer - and do not misrepresent an act made in good faith for shallow political gain.

Over to you, prime minister.