Safety reps inconsistency shows up partisan motives of #TUbill
As the Trade Union Bill continues its passage through the House of Lords it is worth reminding ourselves about the potential implications for health and safety. As Frances O’Grady said in Hazards Magazine, the Bill will allow the Government to restrict the time given to trade union health and safety representatives in the public sector, allow agency workers to be used during strikes, thereby creating potential risks, and restrict the ability of workers to strike over safety issues.
At committee stage the Lords were particularly critical over the attack on health and safety representatives, as the debate shows, and were concerned that the Government was now threatening to force unions to restrict the time taken by health and safety representatives by bundling all time off together and imposing a single cap.
However one further issue has struck me about the stupidity of the attack on union health and safety representatives. That is that it only applies to trade union representatives.
There are also a (very small) number of non-union workplace reps out there – staff appointed to do the job by the employer themselves (in both the public and private sectors), where that employer doesn’t recognise a trade union.
The Bill refers to restricting the right of relevant union officials by modifying regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Act. However there are two sets of regulations covering workplace representatives. The 1977 regulations only apply to trade union representatives while we also have the 1996 regulations which apply to representatives of workplace safety in non-unionised workplaces.
Both union reps and non-union reps have the right to paid time off to perform their functions. If the Bill is passed, the Government will be able to restrict the time off given to trade union representatives in the public sector, but not to non-trade union ones.
Now of course in practice there are virtually no representatives of workplace safety (non-union representatives) because they are not independent and therefore not effective, but it shows how ridiculous and unfair the trade union bill is.
Ironically the 1996 regulations were forced on the Government by the European Commission who said that the UK Government was not complying with the European Framework Directive in respect of non-unionised workplaces (to make them match unionised ones). Now we have the Government restricting these very same regulations as they apply to unionised workplaces.
We must keep up the pressure to make sure that the House of Lords sees the Trade Union Bill for what it is. A partisan and cynical attack on the trade union movement it threatens to undermine the work done by the tens of thousands of trade union members who volunteer to be health and safety representatives, and, as a result, make their workplaces a much safer and healthier place.