Whitehall street sign. Photo Crown Copyright / Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC
Union-busting at the heart of this government?
We’ve long been used to the hostility towards trade unions exhibited by some of the more excitable elements on the fringes of the Tory right.
From Aiden Burley and the Trade Union Reform Campaign to Priti Patel and her friends in the Taxpayers Alliance, there has been a constant stream of inaccurate and misleading attacks on union organising, particularly in the public sector.
But worryingly this seems to be taking centre stage with the current government.
In October 2012, the Cabinet Office imposed changes on civil service facility time, that’s the time off that some union reps get to undertake a limited amount of trade union activities, despite plenty of evidence of the benefits that facility time can bring to complex and large scale organisations like government departments and the NHS.
Then in January last year, the Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude wrote to all government departments asking them to review the “check-off” arrangements they had with civil service unions. Check-off is the system long used in large organisations in the public and private sector, where union members’ subs are deducted through the pay roll. While the government claimed this was part of a cost savings drive, it was clear that both the move to end check-off arrangements and the short three month deadline given to transfer members on to direct debit would present major financial and organising challenges for the union, while generating insignificant savings for the taxpayer.
Six government departments have served notice to end check off arrangements so far and, in a significant move today, HMRC has become the seventh to do so. This has the potential to significantly affect unions, for example, in the case of PCS those departments together account for 153k members constituting 66 per cent of the union’s membership.
And now the Conservative Party has announced its intentions to apply stringent thresholds to industrial action ballots across the public sector that do not exist for any other form of ballot anywhere in the UK. Something that cheerleaders such as Boris Johnson might want to consider when they look at their own mandates.
But there is an even darker side to this. Leaked memos at HMRC show how the department have been undertaking a range of measures to marginalise trade unions, claiming that it is in their “business interests” to “reduce the influence of unions”. This is union-busting at its sharpest being implemented at the heart of our government.
With 60 per cent of George Osborne’s public spending cuts yet to come and the Office for Budget Responsibility predicting over 1m public sector job cuts by the end of the next parliament, the government clearly anticipates further resistance from public sector unions and appears hell bent on eradicating their ability to mount any kind of challenge.
Our movement represents millions of working people and their families and communities. We all need strong unions at all levels to ensure the rights and concerns of ordinary people are not brushed aside by the powerful. That this kind of union busting can occur at the very heart of the government – which is supposed to serve all citizens’ interests – is deeply worrying.
Please support our campaign – Write to your MP now, asking them to commit to support trade union rights under this and the next government.